PLoS Medicine has published an article detailing many of the tricks of the trade used by pharmaceutical company sales representatives. A former pharmaceutical sales representative and a physician who researches pharmaceutical marketing wrote the article.
The article cites the US$4.8 billion investment made by pharmaceutical companies in 2000 in direct promotional activity to prescribers from an overall budget of US$15.7 billion for promoting all prescription drugs. It also provides an insight into the training these individuals undergo and some of the data they are trained to collect and report back to their respective companies. All of this activity is aimed at changing prescribing habits to favour the promoted drug.
Clinicians may find it interesting to categorise themselves using the table and see if the marketing activity they encounter is being tailored to them. Learning how promotional activity works will allow clinicians to recognise and counter these tactics.
In conclusion the article points out that while sales representatives appear friendly, charming and sympathetic all of this is carefully constructed to increase sales and market share for particular drugs. They recommend that clinicians find an unbiased source for information on drugs.
Action: Clinicians will have their own views on the benefits provided by sales representatives in terms of education, samples and service provision. It is important that all clinicians consider the potential for bias in any information provided during these encounters.