Reps should bring docs science, not tchotchkes

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In response to seismic forces that are buffeting the US medical marketplace, most pharma companies are phasing in new commercial models that, among other things, revamp how sales forces are deployed. As companies experiment with various deployment strategies, one thing seems clear: pharma reps will need to adapt to a new environment and adopt new skills.

The essence of change for pharma reps is to move away from promotion and toward science. This evolution started a few years ago with the elimination of amenities such as coffee mugs and pens. If the US follows trends in Europe, rep delivery of samples may be next on the endangered list. Following that, several regulatory trends threaten industry-sponsored meals such as dinner meetings and lunch-and-learns.

As reps deliver fewer material things, they will need to provide physicians with value of another sort: knowledge. The explosion of scientific knowledge represents a challenge to caregivers and an opportunity to reps. Unlike clinicians, pharma reps can focus on narrow disease states and treatments. The global scale of pharmas makes it more economical to develop superior clinical resources, such as patient empowerment, quality improvement and peer education programs. By providing a mix of specialized medical knowledge and superior clinical resources, pharma reps can offer solid value to physicians and be true partners in better patient care. But, pharma reps will need to change in several ways to become science reps.

Education: Not every rep can attain a PharmD, but reps will need to educate themselves as never before to gain a true mastery of specific areas of medicine. This will require significant support from pharmas, including internships and similar immersive experiences. Most of all, it will require a commitment by reps to a lifetime of learning.

Technology: Digital media has become dominant in medicine, but its vastness can easily overwhelm clinicians. Reps need to keep pace with the latest digital resources and serve as an “information concierge” to their physicians. Reps need to be conversant and comfortable with a wide range of digital tools.

Unbranding: The biggest challenge for some reps—and marketers—may be shedding their promotional mindset and embracing a more scientific role. That's not to say reps won't be advocates for their products, but rather, they will provide value to clinicians by offering both superior products and a mix of knowledge and clinical resources that help optimize patient care.

Bill Cooney is CEO, MedPoint Communications, Inc.

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