According to a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, pharmaceutical companies spend approximately 70% more money marketing to physicians than they do to consumers (see chart; click to enlarge).

The physician promotional data includes estimated spending on office and hospital-based promotion to physicians and journal advertising. These estimates do not include other spending, such as drug company spending on meetings and events (eg, CME and advertising at CME events, which could be as much as $1.5 billion). It also does not include fees paid to physicians for participating in post-marketing studies or for “consulting.” As I pointed out previously (see “Dollars for Docs: More Scrutiny Needed“), some of these fees can be substantial.

Regular readers of Pharma Marketing Blog know that from time to time I host little opinion polls on various topics. In case you missed these polls, I have placed them in the column on the left. A new poll is reloaded every time to refresh the page.

Several polls on this blog addressed pharmaceutical physician marketing and education practices and the results to date are shown in the figure below.

Whoops! Wrong figure. That’s the infamous bikini-clad sales rep (see here for that story).
See chart below for poll results.

The Necessity of Sales Reps
A big slice of the physician promotion pie goes towards supporting field-based sales reps. The average cost of a sales call by a rep may range from $200 to $500 (see “What Is Average Cost of Sales Call?“).

What absolutely essential need does the rep fulfill? I originally asked this question back in January (see “Are Sales Reps Necessary?“). This got me banned from Cafe Pharma (see “Banned from CafePharma!“), but it was worth it to raise the issue and get feedback from readers (see poll results at top of chart above).

Surprisingly, almost twice as many votes were cast agreeing that pharma sales reps are unnecessary for any of the listed functions than votes agreeing that they were needed for all the listed functions (14% vs. 8%).

While “Source of Practical Information for Docs” got the most votes, I think this is not an “essential” function of sales reps. After all, physicians have multiple ways of getting drug information, including the Internet. However, I do see the utility of getting right in front of the doc and shoving the information in his/her face.

Free Lunches
Only 9% of the votes cast agreed that reps served an essential function by serving free lunches to physicians. In another poll (second from top in the chart above), a clear majority (62%) of respondents agreed that pharma should STOP serving free lunches altogether.

If pharma can’t stop the lunches, then I suggest they serve healthy lunches instead of pizza and cupcakes. What kind of message does that menu send, especially to patients who see the food being rolled by them in the waiting room?

Soon, I expect pharma to start serving lunches to patients as well (see “Free lunch for patients! Why not?“).

Consultant Fees
While pharma is being pressured to reveal who gets continuing medical education (CME) grants, a lot more money may be going to physicians as paid “consultants” (see “Dollars for Docs: More Scrutiny Needed“).

A very large majority (71%) of respondents to a poll agree that the public has a right to see which physicians get consultant fees, for what and how much they get (see poll results at the bottom of the chart above).

To sum up, if reader opinion means anything, pharmaceutical companies should stop giving physicians free lunches and they should make public the consulting fees they pay to docs.

I respectfully await your rants!