Higher Learning for Pharma Sales Reps

Apr 29, 2009

In June 2009, the American Society of Hypertension (ASH) will roll out a new educational initiative in hypertension and related cardiovascular disease intended to enhance the level of education of allied health professionals and pharmaceutical sales representatives.

According to President Henry Black, ASH determined some time ago that its clinical hypertension review course for physicians could be modified to support the training of wider audiences of health professionals, including industry representatives. While ASH collaborated with Daiichi Sankyo on the educational concept specifically for sales reps, the resulting accreditation program was developed exclusively by ASH, with no input from the drug company. There was, however, one exception: ASH requested that Daiichi Sankyo review the content to be sure that it is tailored to the appropriate level for sales reps.

Designed to improve a reps’ knowledge and understanding of hypertension and related cardiovascular disease, ASH’s Hypertension Accreditation Program will train more than 700 Daiichi sales team members in the first year of the program. And it seems highly likely that others will follow suit; ASH has already received several inquires from other pharmaceutical companies to come on board. Black believes there are two reasons for the heightened interest: The potential distinction of their representatives earning this accreditation, and the value it will bring to the discussions their sales representatives have with physicians.

To achieve accreditation, sales reps will undergo rigorous training (approximately 10 hours of home study prior to the live course, 13 hours of intense classroom training over two days, and six hours of homework) that concludes with a one-hour written exam administered by ASH. The reward for the DSI sales team members who manage to successfully pass? Recognition among peers as an ASH hypertension expert, which will be designated on their business cards. But John Sjovall, senior director of sales training for Daiichi, adds that the real incentive will be “increased time and more scientifically robust conversations about cardiovascular disease and with healthcare providers.”

It is no surprise why the industry is still abuzz these days with the great rep debate that includes the rise of medical science liaisons. In 2008, a “Hot Spot” survey conducted by the online physician community Sermo revealed that physicians prefer to interact with more highly-trained reps who are better educated and prepared to engage in higher-level discussion about relevant diseases and available treatments.“We are seeing an industry shift back towards true sales consultants and away from marketing representatives—and that’s a good thing for patients in the end,” said Sjovall. “Given the increasingly limited time sales representatives have with physicians, conversations need to be more sophisticated and should include information that ranges from latest mechanisms that regulate blood flow and pathways, to heart disease and organ involvement, to social and economic disparities that affect diagnosis, treatment, control, and compliance.”