Drug companies and medical device companies focus sales efforts on residents for one reason: because it works. The career-long profit from an eventual loyal physician could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a medical device company. It’s also a “bottom-up” way to capture and defend market share.
Often done under the guide of education, healthcare companies’ marketing efforts are creative and relentless. As the article indicates, many successful sales reps position themselves more as friends than as company representatives.
Inevitably, there have been abuses to the practice. In reaction, many hospitals have severely restricted or even banned contacts with medical students and residents. Some hospitals and medical practices no longer allow sales reps free access to facilities and staff. Some prohibit employees from accepting anything free from industry representatives.
A number of influential and outspoken physicians have written and spoken publicly about the issue, stating that they do not accept any freebies from industry, not even a pen. Their position is that any relationship with industry creates an uncomfortable conflict of interest, actual or perceived.
Of course, attempts to influence physicians and others under the guise of educational programs have been ongoing for many years. There are seminars, dinner meetings and conferences where doctors can earn continuing education credits. I know several physicians who significantly supplemented their professional practice income by speaking about specific drugs at dinner meetings.
Takeaways: Billions of dollars are spent annually on efforts to influence medical professionals. That’s a reasonable (but not necessarily ethical) business decision because many billions more are at stake in drug and medical device revenues and profits. If you are a pharma or medical device sales rep or marketing executive, your job and career are always on the line. Banning these practices just seems to drive them underground.
Perhaps a more rational approach would be to require full disclosure of any transactions (including lunchtime pizzas and the like) with a draconian penalty for concealment.