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Using the Internet to answer health questions.
Pharmaceutical representatives are relied upon to provide accurate and topical information on their products to a broad range of health professionals. Questions about dosing, toxicities, indications and storage information can often be found in the product package insert. However, health professionals seeking information beyond a drug's packaging will often pose questions to pharmaceutical reps. Sales reps must then address these questions based upon experience and, often, anecdotal information. But what happens when a question is posed that the rep cannot answer?
Most pharmaceutical companies maintain a professional medical services department, generally staffed by pharmacists and Pharm. D.s who specialize in drug information. This department maintains a database of form letters answering the most commonly asked questions. A source of frustration for pharmaceutical reps is the use of these form letters to answer very specific questions. Often, professional services will try to find a form letter already in the database and use it to answer a question that may or may not have been asked. Many times, health professionals will ask more than one question about a product, requiring the blending of two different form letters into one. If a form letter doesn't exist for the specific question asked, often a letter answering a similar question will be used, or professional services will respond that no information exists.
But what about the question posed to a sales rep that professional services cannot answer and for which no FDA-approved literature exists? Some reps will tell the health professional that the question cannot be answered, but this is of no help to either the health professional or the patient. Savvier reps will utilize the Internet to access the information they need and adequately answer the question.
Representatives utilizing the Internet need to be cognizant of the source of information. There are countless examples on the Internet of misinformation that ultimately could be harmful if disseminated as fact to a health professional. Representatives should limit their searches for information to reputable journals, universities and professional organizations.
Continuing education is another way pharmaceutical reps can use the Internet. Representatives may periodically scan the latest journals for articles on their products as well as on competitors' products. This awareness of medical literature adds to the representative's knowledge base, opens the door for discussion with the health professional should a question be posed, increases the representative's credibility and utility and ultimately improves patient care by allowing for the dissemination of the very latest data.
E-mail can also be a valuable tool. The time constraints imposed upon health professionals as well as the competition for the health professionals' time with other pharmaceutical reps makes it extremely difficult to make face-to-face contact with many doctors. E-mailing a health professional provides a forum for getting a message across at the prospect's leisure. This avoids rushing through a presentation or presenting to a health professional who is in the middle of a full slate of patients and has his or her mind on other matters. E-mail also provides a means of follow-up to provide answers to questions, additional data or a simple thank you for a recent appointment.
One of the most effective tools that pharmaceutical reps have to get their sales message across is the use of national distinguished speakers. These speaker programs are often scheduled around a luncheon, dinner or local hospital program. Frequently, invitations to speaker programs either never get to the health professional or they end up getting buried in a pile of paper. E-mail provides an excellent avenue for inviting prospects to speaker programs. An e-mail message offers the health professional a means to respond instantly to the invitation, as well as a means to send a reminder to the potential attendee.
Finally, the Internet affords the opportunity for the pharmaceutical representative to participate in patient support chat rooms and message boards. These interactions may give the rep a better understanding of the concerns of the patient and, therefore, better insight into the promotion of the product. This may also allow the sales rep the opportunity to address questions and issues posed by the patients using their product.
If used properly, the Internet can provide pharmaceutical representatives with an important competitive tool. In the future, the representative with the technological edge will be the winner. Ultimately, the patient will be the winner, too. PR