Are Sales Reps as “Useful” as PhRMA Wants Us to Believe? Let’s Look at Some Data PhRMA Doesn’t Mention

By John Mack

“New Survey Emphasizes Value of Biopharmaceutical Company Engagement With Healthcare Providers” is the main point PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association – the industry trade association) emphasized in its press release (here) regarding a survey of physicians it sponsored. PhRMA also pointed out that nearly 9 out of 10 physicians considered company-sponsored peer education programs to be “up-to-date, useful and reliable.”

That’s good news for pharmaceutical marketers who spent $24 billion between October 2009 and September 2010 on physician-targeted promotional spending, not including nearly $1 billion on continuing medical education (more data on promotional spending will appear in a Pharma Marketing News article to be published later today). It’s good news because the survey justifies devoting the bulk of that promotional spend to support physician detailing by sales reps.

Of course, it’s always educational to go beyond the PR and the trade publication stories that merely rephrase the PR (eg, this story) to learn something new, even some things the drug industry may not want you to learn.

For instance, look at this survey result that PhRMA doesn’t mention:

What I notice is that only 22% of physicians surveyed said that patient access to the care they need is “working best.” There is some survey results interpretation issues here, but it seems that access to care may be a problem in the US according to physicians. And without access to care, everything else — including the value of medicines, the quality of care in general, and the value of pharmaceutical sales reps — means nothing. Of course, “access to care” is probably a physician buzz-phrase related to the shortcomings of “managed care” and even “Obamacare.”

The very first sentence in PhRMA’s press release emphasizes that “Nearly eight out of 10 physicians view pharmaceutical research companies and their sales representatives as useful sources of information on prescription medicines.” What PhRMA does NOT say, however, is more telling. Take a look at this survey result:

What I notice is 38% of physicians find Web-based sources of medication information “very useful” versus 26% who find sales reps very useful for that information. Hmmm… either sales reps are not doing their job as well as the Web or maybe they are doing their jobs TOO well — ie, providing company-sanctioned and biased information rather than information physicians think is useful. Or you could look it another way — maybe docs are finding a lot more useful “off-label” information on the Web (and CME, which ranks #1?) — information they technically cannot get from sales reps.

As with any survey, it is difficult to interpret the results of this survey, which allows for all sorts of spins. You can find the entire survey results attached to this Pharma Marketing Forums post.

This story was originally published in Pharma Marketing Blog on April 5, 2011.

Issue: Vol. 10, No. 6
Publication date: 30 March 2011
Word Count: n/a

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