Friday, April 04, 2008

More About the Cynical World of Drug Reps

We have posted several times about the inside view of the marketing tactics used by pharmaceutical representatives to get physicians to prescribe more drugs provided by former Eli Lilly drup rep Shahram Ahari. Our post about an article he co-wrote with Adriane Fugh-Berman is here. Our post about a recent talk he gave in Boston is here. Ahari has recently testified before the US Congress, and gone on the lecture circuit, providing a new set of juicy quotes to illustrate his main points about the cynical world of at least some drug reps.
  • Drug Marketing is Not Education - "The idea that the drug rep is an effective vehicle for disseminating objective science is pure fiction."(1)
  • Drug Reps Buy Friendship with Gifts, Et Cetera - Drug reps use "a vast arsenal of gifts, including pens, pads, clipboards, food and drug samples."(1) The job involves "rewarding physicians with gifts and attention for their allegiance to your product and company despite what may be ethically appropriate."(2) Also, "the nature of this business is gift-giving."(2) Ahari's gift budget for meals was $60,000 a year, and that apparently could be exceeded. Regarding the et cetera, "we were the beautiful people." The people he worked with " were all beautiful, vivacious and fun," and included former models and cheerleaders.(3) In an interview available as a video on the Prescription Project blog, Ahari alleged that the drug reps used "sexual tension" to promote their marketing pitch. (That video includes quotes even more to the point than the ones above, so is worth watching directly.)
  • Physicians are Not Immune - "Physicians can be influenced like everyone else."(3)

Physicians must remember that the indiscriminate use of the latest and most expensive drugs may not necessarily be good for their patients, and putting the patients' interests first is our prime directive. Yes, many drug reps are nice people and are well-meaning, or at least have convinced themselves that that their intentions are good. But we need to be much more skeptical about their pitches, and remember that their goal is to sell drugs, not to educate or be our friends.

1. Hoffer A. An offset to drug industry's sales pitch. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, March 12, 2008. Link here.
2. Baram M. Ex-drug sales rep tells all. ABC News. March 14, 2008. Link here.
3. McConville C. Ex-drug salesman: we lured docs with gifts. Boston Herald, March 30, 2008. Link here.


Anonymous said...

I wrote a comment some time ago concerning "ritualistic feeding" and it's place in a sales presentation. I think the numbers mentioned reinforce that concept that was taught to me in an undergraduate psych class. The whole concept of attractive people offering food should not be dismissed as a powerful motivator and sales tool.

Once again that model/cheerleader bringing you that piece of cut cake with the phrase "Here, try this" is sending a message few can ignore.

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

Most reps have no medical training and if they do speak of thier promoted meds, it normally is composed of words they do not comprehend. Nurses and pharmacists make the best drug reps., yet they are rare.

Anonymous said...

The above comment reflects a major point in sales: A sales person believes what they are saying at the time they are saying it. A nurse or pharmacist would have the knowledge to question the information they are being expected to recite to the doctor and would be unable to reflect the company line knowing a great deal of the sales pitch was just junk science.

Steve Lucas

Adam Greene said...

The drug reps push what have become the marketing "norms" way beyond the realm of what small companies can afford and compete at. As a small company trying to get the attention of doctors, nurses, and insurance companies, it is impossible to go head-to-head (head-to-toe perhaps?) when I cannot afford gifts or nice meals of any kind (and I'll pick a bone with my folks about the lack of gorgeous looks ;) ). We are priced out of the market, and not by accident.