Connecting Patients to Physicians Through Sales Reps

Jul 30, 2008
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Sales reps aren't influencing physician prescribing habits as much as some might think, but doctors have no problem passing along information to alleviate patients' financial burdens. That's according to unrelated surveys, conducted by PhRMA and AstraZenca, respectively.

The biggest take from the PhRMA study (performed by KRCresearch) is that only 11 percent of 501 physicians reported that meetings with sales reps influenced their prescribing habits a great deal. However, 63 percent said that the meetings did influence them some.

The biggest factors in how doctors prescribe drugs turned out to be clinical knowledge and experience (93 percent) and the patient's unique situation (88 percent). That doesn't mean, however, that pharma reps aren't a positive impact on physicians. Forty-six percent of doctors surveyed said that reps are always useful in providing information about assistance programs for prescription coverage.

It points out that physicians take into account a lot of different things when they make prescribing decisions. A lot of important factors go into prescribing decisions. Docs want the latest information about drugs that can help them make informed decisions.

"One of the problems that physicians face is that when they make a decision about what meds to take, in some cases patients can't afford the medicine," said Ken Johnson, senior vice president for communications at PhRMA. "One of the things that our reps do is provide doctors with information about their own company's patient assistance programs as well as industry wide programs that are designed to provide patients that are struggling with free or nearly free medicine."

Patient Assistance
A recent example of this doctors getting information from reps comes from a report from AstraZeneca detailing a year-long survey of ways patients found out about the pharma company's assistance program, AZ&Me. Of the 12,487 people surveyed, 35 percent said that they learned about the program from their physician. That percentage dwarfs the other information sources, including brochures (14 percent), advertising (9 percent), and the AZ Web site (7 percent).

The implication is that the physician is made aware of the program by AZ sales reps whose job it is to promote the site. Brochures are also made available at the doctors' offices and at pharmacies that give patients more information about the program.

"Awareness of eligibility is a challenge throughout the healthcare system," said Tony Jewell, spokesperson for AstraZeneca. "In our home state of Delaware, for example, there are thousands of people who are eligible for Medicaid, and they just haven't signed up. It's incumbent upon us, working with every sector of the healthcare system, to make sure that patients are aware of what's available to them."

According to the company's Web site, last year AZ helped nearly half a million people fill 2.8 million prescriptions, resulting in more than $500 million of savings to patients. The program supports people without insurance, people with Medicare Part D, and offers a third program that provides medicines to healthcare facilities.

SK&A President and COO Dave Escalante told Pharm Exec, "The AstraZenca story is an excellent example of how a major pharmaceutical company is stepping up an providing value to the doctor and the doctor's patients, which is ultimately what it's all about."

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