Sales reps say medical knowledge, business acumen are keys to access

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A large survey of sales reps found that knowledge of evidence-based medicine and clinical practice guidelines, as well as information related to managing the business aspects of a healthcare practice, are the two best ways to get a foot in the door with physicians.

Asked about the most important job-related issues facing sales reps in 2011, 93% of respondents cited an “increased focus on therapeutic and disease state knowledge;” 91% cited “decreased access to clinicians;” 86% cited “pharmaceutical company downsizing;” and 86% cited “FDA safety and regulatory issues,” and 79% cited healthcare reform, specifically the Affordable Care Act. In a comment on the survey, one respondent said: “No physician will listen to the science unless they have trust in the individual presenting the data.”

While access to physicians continues to be worrisome for reps, only 18% of respondents said they had experienced a significant decline in access, and 40% said access had “decreased somewhat.” Surprisingly, 42% said that their access had remained the same or increased over the past three years. The main reasons for a decline in access to physicians, according to survey respondents, were limited access policies in hospitals or physicians' practices, and limited time availabilities for prescribers.

“Despite hearing that reps can't get access, reps that do bring the right knowledge and information to the table do get access and keep access, despite policies [that limit rep visits] at the office or practice,” said Michelle O'Connor, SVP, learning strategy and innovation at the CMR Institute. The online survey was sent to over 14,000 current and former CMR Institute students in January, of which a total of 1,500 surveys were completed. The CMR Institute is a non-profit educational organization for sales reps.

Business and practice management know-how was also top of mind for sales reps in pursuit of access to physicians; behind knowledge about evidence-based medicine and clinical practice guidelines (75%), “information that helps clinicians manage the business aspects of their practice” was the most valuable asset for reps (63%). O'Connor said “understanding formulary processes, reimbursement” and other paperwork processing information is increasingly valuable to sales reps, and valuable to office workers in a practice. Fifty-nine percent cited information regarding clinical trial results as a best method for increasing access. 

Nearly two-thirds of the reps surveyed said video details and other e-detailing programs are “very important” or “important” factors with respect to their job responsibilities in 2011, according to survey data provided by O'Connor.

A large majority of survey respondents (88%) identified themselves as sales or specialty reps, and roughly 83% had more than five years of experience, according to demographic information listed in a white paper on the survey results. No incentives were offered for participation.

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