Doctor, the sales rep will see you now

May 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

A true story of role-reversal.

It was a beautiful day in New England, the first of a two-day working trip in Waterbury, CT with my boss.

Our day started at the Robinwood Luncheonette, which served the best coffee in town. It was a frequent stop for many health care workers in the area, and I knew it was going to be a good day when I sat at the counter next to Dr. Savvides.*

I had been calling on Dr. Savvides for about four years and he was always a good proponent of Zovirax. We casually discussed weather, and then I worked the conversation toward the indication of my product, which was indicated for shingles.

Dr. Savvides was very cordial and, in front of my boss, stated that Burroughs Wellcome was a "fine company." He even asked me to stop by his office later. Needless to say, my boss was quite pleased. I set the appointment, Dr. Savvides left and my boss and I proceeded to have an unusually good day.

At about 3:45 p.m., we went to meet with Dr. Savvides. After about 20 minutes of sitting in his reception area, he asked us in to see him.

As I mentioned before, Dr. Savvides usually supported me and my product, so when I prepared to detail him, I expected just that: a hearty vote of confidence for the product and a nice way to end a productive day with my boss.

Instead, Dr. Savvides hit me with a two-by-four. "Bob, you're a good boy, but I just wrote a prescription for Zovirax today and my nurse told me how expensive it is," he said, "I cannot see spending that kind of money for a condition that will subside on its own after a few days."

I offered benefits and cost justifications - pulled out all the stops - to try to convince him that this was a viable, cost-effective treatment for patients with shingles. But Dr. Savvides would not budge. We walked out of the office with his new commitment sounding in our ears: "Zovirax is too expensive, and until you lower the price, I see no reason to prescribe it."

Later that night, I received a phone call. It was Dr. Savvides.

"Bob, did you put a hex on me?" he asked.

I was taken aback. "What do you mean?"

Shortly after I left his office, he told me, he started getting prodromal pain in his lower left thoracic dermatome.

"This is an early sign of shingles, right?" he asked, looking for reassurance. I said it sounded like it to me, but assured him that I had not put any hex on him. "I wish I had that kind of power," I told him. "I would be a CEO by now!"

Dr. Savvides asked if I could stop in and see him the next day. I told him to take it easy, and I would stop by first thing.

When I picked up my boss in the morning, he could hardly believe my story. We went to see our new "patient." When we arrived, he rushed us into an exam room and unbuttoned his shirt.

"Look, can you see it? It is really bad!" he said. Dr. Savvides had about 10 vesicles just beginning to emerge, all in one dermatome in the left thoracic area - a classic presentation.

I told Dr. Savvides that I had seen worse, but that we should treat his shingles right away with 800 mg of Zovirax, five times per day for seven to 10 days.

"Which is better?" he asked, "Seven or 10?"

In this case, I told him, he would benefit most from a full 10-day course of therapy. He then asked about side effects and efficacy. I showed him all the data, despite the fact that I had presented this information to him more than a dozen times over the past four years.

By this time, he was leaning on the exam table and I was standing there evaluating him. He asked me several more questions and even continued to ask for reassurance on ones I had already answered for him. I told him to button up his shirt, that he would be fine and that he would now be a walking testimonial to the efficacy of Zovirax.

While we were waiting in the hall for him (and at the same time trying to digest what had just happened), our patient came out and thanked us for coming in. His final question to me was, "Oh, by the way…Dr. Bob, do you have any samples?"

"That depends on one thing," I promptly replied. "Will you write Zovirax for all your patients with shingles?"

"Absolutely!" he said.

Serendipity is loosely defined as unexpected good luck created by hard work and preparation. My story's take-away message is that, as pharmaceutical sales representatives, we play a vital role in the overall health care of our society. Our expertise and empathy for those afflicted with the various disease states for which we sell products create an avenue for us to improve health care. Profit should not be our goal, but the result of our hard work. PR