A doc's prescriptions for building rapport

August 1, 1998
Andy Farah

Pharmaceutical Representative

At a recent conference, a number of sales reps asked psychiatrist Andy Farah, M.D., for his opinion on a variety of subjects. The questions, and his answers, are excerpted below.

At a recent conference, a number of sales reps asked psychiatrist Andy Farah, M.D., for his opinion on a variety of subjects. The questions, and his answers, are excerpted below.

Sales rep: I have data that tells me how many prescriptions doctors write for my drug each month. Should I tell doctors I have this information?

Farah: This is an especially bad time to tell doctors you are keeping tabs on them. Managed care has made all of us somewhat paranoid. I like to think sales reps are mainly interested in helping me, not monitoring me.

Also, if you start talking numbers, you forget all about duty to the patient. My patients get drug x because I believe it is the best drug for their condition, not because of someone's numbers. Only use the information as a barometer to tell you if doctors believe in your product or not.

Sales rep: A doctor tries my product and the patient has a terrible allergic reaction. Although this was a fluke, she stops prescribing the product. How do I deal with this situation?

Farah: One strategy is to emphasize how rare the event was. You might say, "Wow! There's only a 0.01% chance of that happening. I'll have to call the home office." Emphasize the facts and just how unusual it is.

In these situations, I think of a ball player in a slump. Coaches first start looking at the fundamentals. They say, "You're not hitting well. Let's look at your batting stance, then your grip and swing." Sales is like that. A slump can remind you to go back to the basics of the doctor-sales rep arrangement.

For instance, what can strengthen the relationship? What information can the sales rep provide? Sales reps should remember to ask themselves what they can do to help the doctor help patients.

Sales rep: We see commercials on television or ads in magazines aimed directly at patients. What do doctors think about that type of marketing?

Farah: As a rule, we don't like them. Many doctors react negatively toward such advertisements because they see it as yet another affront to their sense of control. Patients who come in and say, "I saw a commercial for drug x and I want to be on it" are cutting out the most important part of our jobs: the diagnosis.

When patients ask for treatment x, they assume that I already agree with their own diagnosis. If I don't, they may be frustrated and seek out another doctor who will give them what they want, regardless of what may be best for them.

However, there is so much stigma out there for mental illness that I think it's good that these ads raise awareness and acceptance. Today, you can see advertisements for antidepressants in Vogue and other magazines, and if that convinces one person to get help, I think that's great.

Sales rep: What do I do when I go into an office and the staff says, "Dr. Klein just doesn't see reps…?"

Farah: What the staff may be telling you is that the office setting is not the place to see the doctor. Surely there is a place where they will give you some time.

The trick is to try to arrange a private dinner or lunch, break the ice or otherwise build a relationship. You could ask them for any specifics they need from you, or information you can get for them. Provide the service for a while, even if it is not face-to-face and see if that eases your way through the office door. When doctors say, "I don't see reps," they say "I don't need you." You have to figure out what they need and provide it. Then they'll need you. PR

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