August 5, 2005 -- In a survey conducted by StopPagingMe.com of more than 100 resident physicians, it was found that more than half of those asked found drug reps to be "irritating." The majority of young doctors also found their tactics to have no influence on their prescribing practices but have no problem accepting the freebies
It is common practice for pharmaceutical companies like Merck or Pfizer to send sales personnel, "drug reps," into hospitals and doctors' offices to inform physicians of their latest medications and how they compare with the competition. While this practice has come under great scrutiny in recent years, it is still the rule rather than the exception, especially in competitive drug markets like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Drug reps are known in healthcare circles for their common practice of bringing lunches and free swag as a way of getting healthcare professionals to listen to their sales pitch. While hospitals are littered with pens, pads, and other gimmicks adorned with pharmaceutical logos, this sales practice seems outdated and juvenile for a field that has moved so far towards evidence-based medicine.
StopPagingMe.com, which bills itself as The Online Housestaff Community, has developed into a cultish portal on the web for young physicians across the country. Their often biting commentary on current medical news and original articles on everything from investing, to gifts for doctors, have won them literally thousands of fans.
Their most recent endeavor into sampling the opinions of the training physician community give an interesting perspective into the world of drug prescribing practices. Do these aggressive techniques of simply "getting the name out there," while the doctors are still young, have an effect on what a patient picks up from the pharmacy?
In a survey of 101 resident doctors about the drug companies' efforts to sway their opinion, 49 percent said that they see the drug reps at least once per week, and a full quarter of those surveyed reported that they saw reps on a daily basis.
While less then half found them "helpful" or "educational," significantly more found them "irritating," and nearly 15 percent found their mere presence "immoral."
Further questioning revealed that more than 25 percent of those participating in the survey believed that drug reps should not be allowed in the hospital at all. Fifty-four percent appreciated the free food offered by reps but preferred to do without the education
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that comes with it.
When asked about whether the doctors-in-training felt guilty about taking drug company swag, 64 percent said that they did not feel any guilt or find it unethical in any way.
The “…samples [are] useful for patients,” that cannot afford them otherwise, quoted one respondent.
On the other hand, 10 percent answered that they never take the drug company freebies and find the practice to be “unethical,” and “should be illegal.”
The most important question of the survey tested the drug companies’ efforts directly. They asked the residents if they ever feel the influence of the drug reps when writing prescriptions for patients. While 54 percent said that they “never” feel the impact of free lunches and colorful pamphlets, 35 percent answered that it occasionally may influence their decision of what medication to choose.
“It makes me think of the various options out there,” quoted a participant.
The drug reps “… only influence my decision if the drug would be beneficial to my patient. I would NOT prescribe a drug if I question its efficacy in a patient just because I was given a free lunch and a gadget.”
Those young doctors who remain opposed to the drug reps’ presence in the clinics, private practices and hospitals across the country, wrote vehemently about the weak-minded physician that would allow someone of much lesser training and medical background to compromise their medical management. Words like “never” and “useless” were scattered among clichés like “I do what’s best for the patient.”
But one, more practical, doctor mused, “I don't think it has an effect, but I know they wouldn't be there if the companies didn't know that the freebies and their presence works. They do studies to be sure their budget is well-spent.”