What docs really want from you

April 1, 2002
George Hradecky

George Hradecky is a former editor in chief of Pharmaceutical Representative magazine.

Pharmaceutical Representative

An exclusive survey by Pharmaceutical Representative.

"What do my doctors want from me?" is a question every rep has probably asked him or herself at one time or another. And while there is no one answer to that question that fits every doctor, Pharmaceutical Representative recently polled 336 doctors to find out what they want from the sales reps they see every day. Our poll was conducted through our sister publication Medical Economics, a monthly magazine that goes out to over 150,000 doctors, the majority of whom are family practice, general practice or internal medicine physicians. Some of the responses make perfect sense and others may surprise you, but at the very least they will provide you with some general guidelines to help you serve your often difficult-to-read customers.

When and how

Our poll found that most doctors (89%) see between one and five reps per day and base their decision to see these representatives on several factors. If the representative is new to the doctor, 54% of doctors said they base their decision on whether the rep has a new product. Though that may sound discouraging to representatives selling a product that has been on the market for a while, the next most popular criterion doctors based their decision on (tied with company at 14.8%) was rep personality, so representatives can influence whether doctors will see them.

Assuming a rep does not have a new product, 52% of doctors said their main reason for seeing that rep is "to get samples." Twenty percent of doctors responded that it is "to discuss relevant clinical data or concerns" and 19% said it is "to get information on the products they sell."

Regarding samples, in most offices (58%) the doctor has the most involvement with the sample closet, followed by the nurse (26%).

It will come as no surprise to most representatives that the majority of doctors (37%) said they most prefer to have representatives visit their office at lunch. "We have a very busy practice," remarked Steven Shook, a family practitioner in Sioux City, IA. "Probably four days out of the week, a rep will have lunch, and that will give me a little more time to discuss with them, maybe five or ten minutes." Midmorning and midafternoon were the next most popular times (23% and 22%, respectively). The least popular times for representatives to visit doctors were early morning (10%) and late afternoon (8%).

The poll also found that the standard industry assumption that most reps are given only two minutes to detail their products to doctors is correct. When asked, "On an average day, how much time will you allow a rep to present information to you?" 44% of doctors said two to three minutes. "I just don't have the time to give, and there are so many of them," commented Noble Ballard, a family practitioner in southwest Oklahoma. "You get 15 of them a day, and there are just too many."

The next most popular response was five to nine minutes (29%). Not surprisingly, the least popular response was "as long as it takes" (7%).

When discussing clinical data, most doctors want reps to present the data to them using either product summaries or clinical reprints (each with 40%). Only 11% of doctors said they want reps to discuss clinical data with them using company-provided marketing material.

Though most doctors ranked hearing about indications, contraindications, efficacy, dosage, adverse reactions and cost during a detail as very important, the majority felt dosage and cost are slightly less important than the other four choices. "I want to make sure it works for the patient," said Robyn Jackson Flagg, a family practitioner with a solo practice in Calumet City, IL. "Patient care is my number-one priority."

When detailing their doctors, representatives might want to think about including pharmacoeconomic information regarding their drug. Forty percent of doctors said it is equally important as data about the drug's safety and efficacy, while 25% said it is slightly less important. Sixteen percent thought it is not as important, and 13% said it is much more important.

Rep-sponsored programs

Our poll found that most doctors (49%) are attending one rep-sponsored educational or informational program per month. Thirty percent are attending one program every six months, and 9% do not attend rep-sponsored programs at all.

Having their spouse/partner or children involved in rep-sponsored programs means a great deal to the doctors who attend those programs. The majority (67%) said it is very important or somewhat important that their spouse/partner and children be involved, while 19% said it is not important at all. "If there's something that has an entertainment component or a meal, I take my meals with my spouse," said Flagg. "He's a physician, so it's relevant for him."

The influence of HMOs

The majority of doctors who responded to our survey are not greatly influenced in their prescribing by information supplied to them by HMOs. When asked, "To what extent are your prescribing decisions influenced by cost information provided by HMOs?" 52% of doctors indicated either little or no influence. Twenty-eight percent said they are moderately influenced, and only 4% said they are always influenced by this information.

As for efficacy information provided by HMOs, 69% of doctors responded that this information has little or no influence on their prescribing. Twenty-two percent said this information has moderate influence on them, and only 2% said it always influences their prescribing.

"I don't pay any attention to it," said Flagg. "[HMOs] exist for the cost and managing the care for the cost."

These results may also be indicative of the fact that many offices do not fall under the influence of HMOs at all. Several doctors contacted for this story said their prescribing decisions are not influenced by HMOs because their patients are mostly members of preferred provider organizations.

Rep trust and behavior

On the issue of doctors' perceptions of rep trustworthiness, our poll revealed some good news and bad news. The bad news is that when asked, "In your experience and opinion, do you feel reps provide you with information that is 100% accurate?" 75% of respondents said no. Fortunately, out of those respondents who answered no to that question, 57% said they thought only 29% or fewer representatives are providing them with inaccurate or misleading information.

Of the doctors surveyed in our poll, 39% said a rep had acted inappropriately in their office. This inappropriate behavior ranged from being rude to office staff to badmouthing their competition. Aggressive behavior was particularly frowned upon.

"One rep removed our clock in our break room and replaced it with his company logo clock without permission," wrote one respondent. "The same rep removed my calendar, replaced it with his company calendar, went into my office and covered my desk with his product information. He was not invited to return to my office."

When asked what the office did to correct the behavior, most doctors said they called the representative's manager or banned the rep from the office (either permanently or for limited periods of time).

"Two reps were pushing their product and insisting we write more scripts or they would not leave samples," wrote one doctor. "They then proceeded to talk to and follow every staff member at least five to ten minutes before the office manager asked them to leave."

The responses weren't all negative, however. Said one doctor, "I would rather see reps than get info any other way." PR

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