Death of the Pharma Sales Rep?

bah humbugWe’re not feeling a whole load of Christmas cheer among the pharmaceutical industry this festive season.

First came the news that GSK is phasing out all payments to doctors and will no longer be bonusing their reps based on sales.  Now, a new study suggests the end of the road may be nigh for pharma sales reps.

According to a survey of nearly 3,000 physicians undertaken by CapGemini and QuantiaMD, when it comes to receiving clinical and medical info, reps rank last as a resource behind print, digital media and phone links.

  • 67% of physicians say digital media is their preferred source of information from drug-makers
  • 40%  believe digital media has the most relevant and personalized content
  • 52% believe sales reps will eventually become information coordinators
  • Only a paltry 20% say reps are their favorite source of information

no repsIn parallel, more health care providers are shifting toward larger, organized health systems, which make it more difficult for reps to reach physicians for visits. Sixty four  percent of those surveyed say they restrict rep visits and 31 % of physicians in organized health systems do not allow reps any access, due to corporate policies.

Newer and younger physicians are more likely to rebuff reps – as many as 80%  impose restrictions. 90% of new physicians are joining organized health systems right out of medical school.

Physicians today are in a time crunch, juggling more commitments than ever before and no longer have the time to dedicate to in-person meetings with pharmaceutical representatives. So the reliance on more digital channels comes as no surprise,” said Dan Malloy, Senior Vice President at Quantia. “This study supports what we’re already seeing from our 200,000 members–that a physician-centric, digital communication model is the most effective way for reaching and engaging doctors.”

On a more positive note, reps slightly edge out other resources when it comes to finding product info and patient education.

Hala Qanadilo, a principal in life sciences at CapGemini says, “While the more traditional face-to-face, in-office visits might decrease, the role of these representatives is projected to be as important as ever. Moving forward, they will need them to be the directors of multiple information sources, customizing their outreach so it is more personalized and physician-centric.”

How are you tackling the changing healthcare environment in these increasingly restrictive times?  We’d love to hear from anyone out there in Pharmaland.

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Treading Lightly – A New Approach for Pharma

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a dramatic change occurring in the pharmaceutical industry. The on-line article explored how many of the big pharma companies are changing their commercial model in response to the current economic and regulatory conditions. Most notably, drug reps are being encouraged to soften their sales pitches and re-position themselves as a trusted resource for the doctors they call upon. British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for example, has stopped evaluating salespeople based on the number of prescriptions written  Instead, they look at how well physicians rate their representatives. GSK, Merck and Lilly are also asking their representatives to switch from making forceful, tightly scripted sales pitches to acting more like a resource supporting physicians’ treatment. Companies hope to get a foot in the door by providing practical help, such as assistance educating patients about their diseases or navigating reimbursement. Why now?  Clearly, prescribers, who are under increasing pressure from health plans to curb costs, have less time for, and patience with, persistent sales representatives. Plus, the government has been cracking down on aggressive, and off-label marketing. For some, myself included, this is nothing new. Almost 20 years ago when I worked in pharma, I rarely “detailed” my products. Instead, I helped “my doctors” build websites for their own practices, helped to organize, and on occasions even moderate, their clinical meetings and assisted them with….well just about anything they wanted assistance with, be it product related or not. The strategy worked, sales grew and my competitors, even those with better products or prices were neutralized. Increasing physician satisfaction, it turns out, is a much better way to promote a pharmaceutical agent than simply telling them to write more prescriptions or what the benefits are,” says David Ricks, president of Lilly’s global business unit. Unfortunately, salespeople still can’t provide the one thing many doctors want above all – time!  Even though pharmaceutical companies are attempting to engage prescribers in a more pleasant way, they still don’t always get a positive reception because nothing is being done to solve the doctors’ time problem. The bottom line is that physicians need to fit more patients – not sales reps – into their workday. Although it’s estimated that pharma sales reps  pay 115 million visits to 340,000 doctors each year, 23% of doctors surveyed by market research firm SK&A in 2010 said they don’t see drug reps at all. Eli Lilly decided to adopt its new approach after watching launches of new drugs fail. One problem the company identified was a mismatch between what doctors expected based on sales pitches, and what the products delivered. Before the change in tactics, psychiatrist Carey Cottle, MD says he was more likely to write prescriptions for a competing antidepressant like Pfizer’s  Effexor over Cymbalta, because Lilly representatives had a “high-pressure, car sales-type approach, and it was just not appropriate.” Now, surveys of doctors show that 85% are satisfied with Lilly, up from the 60% before the company changed ways. And business is up too. Sales of Cymbalta were >$450 million higher during the first nine months of 2011, than during the same period in 2010. We’d love to hear what doctors and sales reps think about this.

The Doctor Won’t See You Now

Obtaining access to busy physicians grew more difficult for pharmaceutical representatives in 2009.

  • The number of physicians willing to see most reps fell nearly 20%
  • The number of prescribers refusing to see most reps increased by half
  • The number of management-planned sales calls that were nearly impossible to complete topped 8 million.

These are among the findings of a report from global consulting firm ZS Associates that examined how often physicians and other prescribers will meet with sales representatives from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The study monitored the sales rep-related interactions of more than 500,000 physicians, nurse practitioners and other pharmaceutical prescribers and tracked both the planned and completed sales calls of more than 41,000 pharmaceutical representatives — about half of all representatives in the United States.

According to the spring 2010 report only 58% of prescribers in 2009 were “rep-accessible”. This is down 18% from the previous year.  At the same time, the number of “rep-inaccessible” prescribers — those who saw fewer than 30 percent of the reps who called on them — increased from 6 to 9%.

The report noted that this trend reflects both the physician’s busier schedule and the pharmaceutical industry’s lack of new blockbuster drugs.  As a result, physicians are loath to see any but the most valuable pharmaceutical sales representatives.  Even those physicians classified as “rep-accessible” became more discriminating.  In this category, 94% of primary care providers and 83% of specialists did not see even the best representatives more than twice each month.

Based on these findings, the authors concluded that more than 8 million sales calls are nearly impossible.

Pharmaceutical representatives are operating today in an increasingly unwelcome physician-office environment,” said principal author Chris Wright. “Certain prescribers simply won’t see pharmaceutical representatives and they won’t do it under any circumstances”.

This report clearly shows that pharmaceutical companies need to find an alternate way to get their messages to prescribers.  Contact SRxA to learn how we can help you achieve this.