Gifts teach new docs about drugs

October 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Does it all come down to who gives better pens?

A physician's propensity to use or not use a certain brand of medication is closely tied with his or her comfort level with a product. If physicians have even a shadow of a doubt about the exact name or dosing of a product, they will default back to a drug that they are comfortable with.

Improving name recognition in the learning stages of medical education, therefore, is a smart strategy by pharmaceutical companies. They do this by distributing product line- or company logo-emblazoned items, such as pens, sticky pads, rulers and key-chains to medical residents.

But while the speed at which these gifts disappear at dinner and luncheon presentations may seem encouraging, are they really influencing prescribing habits?

Consider the following gifts and how a medical resident might perceive them.

Gift items

Pens. Perhaps the most common pharmaceutical-related paraphernalia are ball-point pens.

These are popular items because one of the most powerful weapons in a physician's arsenal is his or her pen. Simple, slim ball-point pens are the most useful, because they fit easily into residents' already overloaded jacket pockets.

Over the years, many jokes have been made about the poor quality of such pens. In fact, residents often prefer one company's pen to another for reliability reasons. Make sure that your pens are high quality, especially since it may be seen as a reflection on the company or product line as a whole.

Notepads. Residents are bombarded everyday by little bits of data from all sides: orders from the attending physician, information from the emergency room, critical lab values and to-do lists.

While the usual printed sticky pads are useful, the resident usually has space in his or her jacket for only one pad of paper. Therefore, a small clipboard for writing in a work environment where table space is minimal is more useful than sticky notes.

Ectopic brain cards. Each medical student and intern usually carries with them a small 3" x 5" hard binder colorfully named an "ectopic" brain. This notebook is filled with carefully organized clinical pearls that the resident has accumulated over the years. Included are such items as mnemonics, formulas and lists of diagnoses.

From a marketing perspective, the opportunity exists to plant a page in this "ectopic brain." Small 3" x 5" laminated summary statements detailing a product, its indications and perhaps a simple mnemonic can easily find its way into this "ectopic brain." Ideas such as indications for ACE inhibitors or New York Heart Failure Classification piggy-backed with a specific brand of ACE inhibitor will promote name association while reinforcing required dosing and indications.

Pen lights. Every resident needs to carry a pen light to complete physical exams of patients. A pen light tests pupilary response and looks into the mouth at the oropharynx.

Cups, coffee mugs and water bottles. All of these items are snatched up with great vigor, but may be left behind at the end of the day. The problem is that residents and medical students usually have no fixed abode and must either carry everything with them or leave items in a call room where they are often forgotten.

In addition, such items are not as effective as those listed above, since they are not carried at all times.

Stethoscope identification tags. These are always a big hit because residents need to label their stethoscopes in case they misplace them. Stethoscope identification tags are most popular with medical students, and many residents tend to have the same identification tag throughout medical school and residency. However, since the tag is not looked at on a daily basis, the impact for brand-name recognition is diminished.

EKG calipers. Resembling a drawing compass, EKG calipers are used in electrocardiogram interpretation to measure rates and determine frequency of electrocardiographic events. Each resident usually carries one.

Pocket organizer/schedule books. Every resident has a plethora of phone numbers, appointments and meetings to remember, and needs some form of organization to optimize his or her time. Pharmaceutical-company supplied date books, organized according to the academic calendar year, can be found as part of most residents' uniforms. PR

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