Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Reflections: Whither The "Pharma Rep" (Or Detailer) Old-School Sales Career?

With local Philly-area media noting that some 5,000 more positions are yet to be eliminated -- during 2015 -- at Merck (and we all have likely surmised that the bulk of those are likely to be detailer jobs), I decided to take a moment to ask whether the position should exist, at all. [And I won't belabor the point, but those 5,000 are on top of perhaps 35,000 over the last four years -- at Merck and legacy Schering-Plough, in the aggregate -- reflected industry wide, too.]

Right at the top, let me say that I mean no disrespect to the smart, creative, hard working and honest men and women who presently perform this role, at various pharmaceutical and biotech companies around the United States. I simply know that -- even in the last seven years -- with the advent of a more universal system of health care reimbursement coverage (and especially in the last two years), we are witnessing a vast consolidation of purchasing power -- consolidation, into the hands of an acceleratingly small number of payers -- each of which is increasingly weilding more price negotiating power. So, I must ask (but not too-quickly suggest an answer), is it even wise to try to influence the doctors' decisions by direct visits, from often fresh faced, well-informed (albeit with a pro-drug perspective) mostly young people? [Tell me what you think, in comments.]

It would seem that in hundreds of cases, if one were to read CafePharma, at least -- the "sales" people themselves believe that job has largely become a lunch or breakfast catering-to-the-clinic-staff role. Literally getting them Starbucks, or Chipotle, on an every other week basis -- in the hopes of being able to schedule a few minutes every three or four months -- to chat up the doctor. And to get signatures for the samples delivered, as formerly just required by HQ (and now required by regulatory imperatives). Given that so many doctors now will write primarily the 'scrip the payer is willing to reimburse most completley (for the resource constrained patient), should Merck even be spending on what may amount to a "nation-wide catering and delivery" operation?

To be clear, we all know that industry-sponsored CME events, and opinion leader talks, even if digitized (as at right) -- with doctors talking to other doctors -- remain effective in influencing prescribing patterns. What I am increasingly skeptical about, however, is whether the detailers' calls, made mostly upon staff and nurses, and in many cases, to deliver donuts, coffee, or lunch, really adds enough to Whitehouse Station's US revenue -- to be continued. Sure, some offices will complain when the free food stops arriving -- but will a doctor really decrease (or increase?) his/her prescribing patterns, with- or without the free Subways? I have no idea. But I'd bet that the data is driving these remaning 5,000 job cuts. And it is industry-wide.

Finally, as a housekeeping matter, I should politely indicate that the appearance of the rapper/actor above in no way implies that he, or his people, endorse this website or its contents. Just so we are clear. Just a nice night out. Have an easy breezy Sunday! My hot fresh coffee -- and the quiet, luminous beach-front, at dawn -- chants to me now. I'm out.

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