This movement is increasingly organized and has what appears to be a growing number of supporters. No Free Lunch, a not-for-profit organization of healthcare providers, recently made headlines by urging medical students to resist the free pizza offered by drug companies. A health system in Duluth, MN, reported ridding its offices of 20 shopping carts of promotional items from pharmaceutical representatives and shipping them off to Africa. The Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition—a newly formed alliance that includes the AARP, the American Heart and Stroke Associations, as well as insurers such as BlueCross BlueShield of Massachusetts and Neighborhood Health Plan—announced its intention to work to eliminate the "inappropriate marketing practices" it says are driving up the cost of healthcare. The Prescription Project, an effort funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, has similar goals.
Some groups advocate eliminating the pharmaceutical sales call altogether, and stories abound of healthcare systems that have banned or severely restricted sales representative visits to physicians—not to mention individual physicians who have decided they will no longer see reps in their offices or clinics. These and other efforts create the impression that more and more of today's practicing physicians and other providers see no value in any aspect of the pharmaceutical industry's marketing efforts and want nothing to do with sales representatives. But is that perception accurate? Do physicians really want to do away with the sales call by pharmaceutical representatives?
Asking the Questions
CMR Institute conducted a series of focus groups with primary care physicians and specialists across the country, as well as a quantitative online survey, in which doctors were asked what qualities were most important in a sales representative. When asked, fewer than 10 percent said they do not see sales representatives.
A standard already exists in Europe: Sales representatives have to meet strict corporate-responsibility standards set forth by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). EFPIA—the voice of 2,100 research-based European pharmaceutical companies—is committed to patient care and quality-of-life issues, with strong emphasis on research and development of new medicines. Its Codes of Practice, which all representatives must follow, regulate marketing tactics and require sales representatives to have "adequate training and sufficient scientific knowledge."