Are Pharmaceutical Reps Really Ancient History?

As many in pharma know, many doctors no longer welcome pharmaceutical reps in their practices. They feel that it is wasted time and they get no benefit from the information that is relayed. One reason why: Some feel that these discussions are commercially biased. Sure, the reps want to sell their products. But, should doctors completely disregard this mode of communication? Or should we look to new modes and let rep visits become history?

I feel we need to maintain these relationships for several reasons.

  • Many new medications are constantly brought to markets and as physicians, we must stay current on medical knowledge, medications included. We will need to treat patients with these medications. Additionally, it is important that we offer patients all available options. I personally do not have time to research new medications, so in this regard, pharma reps are great assets.
  • Formularies of insurance companies are constantly changing. I spend loads of time playing “guess the right medication” with pharmacists dispensing my prescriptions. When pharma reps share this information, it becomes easier to know which medications will be covered and which ones I may have a hard time prescribing.
  • The pharma reps provide free samples for patients. This is a good way to try a patient on a medication before they actually pay for it at the pharmacy. Additionally, these samples help some patients when they are unable to otherwise afford their medications.
  • Most pharma companies offer programs for patients who are unable to afford medications. The reps can give us the information about these programs that otherwise might take us a long time to discover on our own.
  • These days, most companies have patient education materials and online programs. These can be a wealth of knowledge for patients in managing their own diseases. Again, the reps are often the ones who bring this information to physicians.

Is there undue commercial influence in these discussions? Surely, the passage of the Sunshine Act seems to indicate this is so. However, those who believe so are missing a very important part of the picture. As a physician, I am dedicated to life-long learning. I am not going to prescribe a medication just on the say so of a pharma company rep, but will analyze any information they provide through the prism of my own medical knowledge and experience. I will never prescribe a medication to a patient just so a rep can meet their target numbers or to make them happy. Each patient deserves my best attention and medical advice. I prescribe or recommend medications that I think best for each individual patient.

While many doctors no longer welcome these reps into their practices, I think they are missing out on a valuable source of information. It is a means of educating ourselves. As long as physicians continue to follow the Hippocratic Oath and do the best for our patients, there is no harm in interacting with pharma reps. All information, whether we use it or not, is beneficial.

  • Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP

    Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP, is Owner of Girgis Family Medicine LLC. Currently affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital, Linda also writes for Sermo, Physician’s Weekly, the Library of Medicine, and others.


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