Sales Tactics in the Drug Industry: Plus Ca Change

Not a week goes by without news of the growing concern — among consumer advocates, medical students and Congressional watchdogs — about the financial conflicts of interest that bind doctors to the pharmaceutical industry and may bias their judgment about new drugs. Several drug companies, hoping to forestall federal legislation, have announced their intention of disclosing these conflicts of interest — which take the form of lucrative personal payments to prominent doctors and researchers (key opinion leaders or KOLs in the industry vernacular) who are in a position to influence other doctors.

But within the industry itself, status quo reigns.

One need only glance at the flyer for an upcoming conference targeting the industry’s army of salesmen and women. Dubbed “the premier event in pharma sales,” the May sales force effectiveness summit in Princeton, New Jersey, features several seminars on how sales agents can improve their access to physicians and “connect directly” with them, in order to promote new products. Five “key opinion leader physicians” will be on hand to lead one seminar (highlighted in bright yellow) and instruct attendees on what works the best with their busy medical colleagues. (I’m sure these KOLs are being paid handsomely to attend; I’m equally sure that KOLs who are currently under Congressional investigation such as Charles Nemeroff, Martin Keller and Alan Schatzberg will probably not be in attendance, but I could be wrong).

Attendees can also learn how to maximize the use of software to sort through doctors’ prescribing practices to determine which doctors to hit on and how best to capitalize on all this lovely data for sales. In the conference organizers’ own words: “Enhance your [sales] reps’ interpretation of patient-level data to ensure increased success with physicians.” Why do I have the feeling that patient privacy is not going to be high on the agenda here?

In sum, the two-day conference boasts a virtual smorgasbord of tips for getting close to doctors in order to maximize drug sales. The price of entry may be a bit steep — fees range from $1,795 to $2,895 depending on whether you buy a platinum, gold or just a silver pass — but don’t worry: if you’re a hard-hitting pharmaceutical sales rep, your company will no doubt pick up the tab.

Hat tip to Marilyn Mann for spotting this brochure and sending it my way.

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