Are Drug Reps Really Necessary?

One of the main functions of pharmaceutical representatives is to provide free samples to doctors’ offices instead of what has historically been their vocation: implementing authentic and ethical persuasion via presentations. Yet presently, samples are a priority and delivering them is the primary function for drug reps, and these samples in themselves cost billions to the pharmaceutical industry. Yet arguably, samples are the most influential tool in influencing the prescribing habit of the healthcare provider. Let me be clear on that point: it’s samples, not a representative, as the true catalyst of establishing the prescribing habits of a prescriber.

Yet considering that drug promotion cost, overall, is approaching $20 billion a year, which includes the approximately $5 billion spent on drug reps themselves, what if there is another way for doctors to get free drug samples? What if prescribers could, with great elation, avoid drug reps entirely, yet still receive drug samples for their patients?

MoneyThere is actually a way to do this, but it is a limited process.

With some select, smaller pharmaceutical companies, doctors have the ability to order samples by printing order forms obtained on certain drug company sites on the internet for medications associated with the manufacturers. Examples of such branded medications that can or have be ordered in this way are Keflex, Extendryl, and Allerx. Possibly several more can or are available to prescribers in this way. Others, however, cannot be acquired by this method, yet this method may be the most preferable both from a business and efficiency point of view. Customer satisfaction would clearly be elevated.

So in some situations, a doctor can go online, print off a sample order form, fax it into a designated fax number after completion of the form, and the samples are shipped directly to the doctor’s office. There is no review of the doctor’s prescribing habits nor are there any possible embellishments from reps. And that appears desirable to many health care providers, yet most drug companies apparently place unneeded value on the impact potential of a sales rep of their company to a level of some sort of delusion based on metrics that are possibly categorized as types of fantasies with the copious amounts of drug reps today.

Now, why is this not done more often? Apparently, it is legal. If samples are the number one influencer of prescribing habits, why spend all the money on drug reps to deliver samples personally, as this is essentially their primary duty?

It’s worth exploring, possibly, since the drug rep profession has evolved essentially into those who become a specialized delivery person, dressed in a nice suit, one could say. In other words, and in my opinion as a drug rep, most doctors will not and prefer not to dialogue with you during your visit to their medical clinic.

Think of the money that could be saved if more pharma companies offered samples to doctors in this manner. Furthermore, there is no interruption of the doctor’s practice. And again, there is no risk of bias presented to the doctor.

Doctors again would be able to order and utilize samples according to their discretion, and would be free of interference from the marketing elements of various pharmaceutical corporations. Patients benefit when this occurs, likely. For example, health care providers would be free of possible embellishments and exaggerations voiced by reps on their promoted meds. Inducements would not be offered or accepted. Reciprocity would not be so insisted upon with the absence of drug reps, possibly. In fact, doctors may write more scripts for shipped samples than delivered samples because their discretion is free from interference they have experienced to some degree, and doctors are or would be possibly thankful for this.

Considering the high costs associated with the pharmaceutical industry, having samples shipped directly to doctor’s offices should be utilized more than it is presently — regardless of the size of the pharmaceutical company, perhaps. And the pharmaceutical companies would save quite a bit of money as well without a sales force that may likely not be needed after all. Drug prices may improve.

Something to think about as one ponders cost savings regarding this issue, and improving the efficiency of patient care and treatment.

The new source of power is not money in the hands of a few but information in the hands of many.
— John Naisbitt

Dan Abshear

Dan Abshear recently divorced himself from "big pharma" after working for three of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world for over a decade. He continues to write primarily opinion pieces regarding what may be little known facts about the health care system- particularly the pharmaceutical industry, and his writings also include responses to the related writings of others as well on various internet sites. Before his pharmaceutical career, he was a patient caregiver for over a decade, which included being a medic (hospital corpsman) in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
See All Posts By The Author