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Drug Reps: Where Are They Now?

Posted At: October 10, 2011 12:19 PM
by Jaley Cranford

One of the most well-known examples of public relations is the drug representative. These men and women are the people most doctors associate with the present-toting, food-bringing type. With new rules governing how drug representatives interact with doctors and other health care professionals, where will drug reps fit in the changing realm of healthcare public relations?

The market for pharmaceutical representatives seems to be shrinking. reports that decreased spending and new codes have forced many long-term representatives to find new venues for marketing medications.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) enacted a new Code of Interactions with Healthcare Professionals in 2009. The PhRMAwebsite contains a complete list of these codes. These new regulations have created an entirely different market for the drug reps of yesterday.

Drug reps are often remembered fondly by doctors as the men and women who bring around free samples, gifts and dinners. No longer do drug reps carry these methods in their marketing arsenal.

The PhRMA regulations state, “In addition to prohibiting small gifts and reminder items such as pens, notepads, staplers, clipboards, pill boxes, etc., the revised Code: Prohibits company sales representatives from providing restaurant meals to healthcare professionals outside their offices, but allows them to provide occasional meals in healthcare professionals’ offices in conjunction with informational presentations.”

The code also does the following:

1. Prohibits company sales representatives from providing restaurant meals to healthcare professionals, but allows them to provide occasional meals in healthcare professionals’ offices in conjunction with informational presentations.
2. Includes new provisions requiring companies to ensure their representatives are sufficiently trained about applicable laws, regulations, and industry codes of practice and ethics.
3. Provides that each company will state its intentions to abide by the Code and that company CEOs and compliance officers will certify each year that they have processes in place to comply.
4. Includes more detailed standards regarding the independence of continuing medical education
5. Provides additional guidance and restrictions for speaking and consulting arrangements with healthcare professionals.

Sales representatives are finding it more and more difficult to market pharmaceuticals to physicians. In a fast-paced world of medicine, doctors are now expected to serve patients as quickly as possible. According to an American Medical News article, one in four doctor’s offices refuses to see pharmaceutical reps now.

Butch Goldblat is a physician in Birmingham, Ala. After more than 30 years interacting with pharmaceutical representatives, he said that the relationships are becoming more strained as healthcare has changed.

“As the new regulations have come out, the healthcare system in America has been changing as well,” Goldblat said. “Doctors have less and less free time. In a time when drug reps are no longer able to drop off products or quickly talk, doctors find it harder and harder to spend time with them.”

Adam Goldwebber has been a pharmaceutical representative for more than 20 years in Alabama. Goldweber said that the world of drug reps will never be the same after the PhRMA regulations of 2009.

“What used to be acceptable, what used to be the norm is not something that drug reps can’t do,” Goldwebber said. “We used to rely on products and benefits to establish relationships with doctors; that time is gone and we now have to find other ways to get out products to the public.”

With social media and online marketing creating revenue for other companies, prescription drug companies are looking for ways to incorporate the Internet into sales. Powerful tools like search engine optimization, online advertising and mobile advertising are starting to take the place of original strategies. Goldwebber said, “Pharmaceutical companies are going to have to search for ways to utilize the internet; drug reps have to be moving to the internet as well.” Gone are the days of mailers and free pens.

The drug reps of tomorrow are going to be expected to do much more than create lasting relationships with doctors. Those men and women will be expected to master and utilize social media and search engine optimization in order to be successful.

Like so many other facets of PR, pharmaceutical sales reps are looking to new Internet technology to move forward. As an increasing number of both potential customers and doctors receive information about prescriptions online, drug reps will need to become more reliant on the Internet as a means of communication.

The problem that faces the drug rep industry is the same one facing millions of PR practitioners in other areas. How do long-time professionals deal with the rapidly changing media world? How do men and women with 25 or more years of experience change their job description?

To that question, Goldwebber said that individuals with drive and determination will adapt.

“The men and women who refuse to quit, who refuse to let changes dictate their livelihood, those are the representatives who will revolutionize the industry and push drug reps forward.”

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