What Pharma Should Do in 2013

At New Year’s resolution time, our physician expert offers five ways the industry can improve its relationships and communications with doctors.  


The beginning of a new year is a time to reflect on the past year’s successes and failures and set goals for the year ahead. As a physician I have often suggested New Year’s resolutions for patients (stop smoking, exercise more, lose weight, etc.). Here are a few New Year’s resolutions the pharmaceutical industry might want to make for 2013.


1. Stop treating all physicians and all markets the same. Despite the many changes in healthcare, most companies still require their sales reps to spend most of their time with the highest prescribing physicians. However, this practice no longer makes sense, as the top prescribers are likely high-volume docs seeing an insurance-only population in 10-minute time slots who will never write a branded prescription. There is much variation among physician practices across the country, even those just a few miles apart. Some generalists act more like specialists, while others refer everything out. Pharmaceutical companies should consider their managers and representatives local experts, allowing them to determine whom to target and how to best communicate their message.


2. Collaborate with others on research. Though the industry has long funded most therapeutic research, lately the majority of studies are for a new claim or indication rather than helping physicians or their patients determine the best treatment options. The new Affordable Care Act has some funding for comparative effectiveness research, but the money allocated is a drop in the bucket. Industry should partner with government or other institutions on research that helps answer important clinical questions.


3. Keep us up to date (and not just on your product). Pharma representatives must provide value to maintain a relationship with a physician. Since that value can no longer be monetary (even a pen), the industry can bring value to physicians by supplying info on the rapid and challenging advances in medicine. Given that physicians are likely interested in information beyond the PI, pharma companies should consider going beyond product specific information and provide physicians with the latest data that supports their product, e.g., disease state.


4. Speak (a little more) freely. Even if information is true and publicly available, the industry has understandably become so concerned with off-label promotion that the restrictions on what their representatives can say has made the physician/rep interaction unproductive. However, the recent federal appeals court’s decision that off-label promotion is a form of free speech should allow for some breathing room. I’m not suggesting the industry start promoting off-label, I’m just hoping that companies will allow their representatives to have more useful conversations that go beyond the information in the PI.


5. Reboot speaker programs. Regulatory restrictions have made speaker programs completely useless. The value of having a clinician present medical data is in one’s ability to discuss that information with peers and offer expert opinions to complicated medical questions. Reading directly from PowerPoint slides, riddled with fair balance and disclaimers, is not valuable, and prohibiting a speaker from answering any questions is an insult. The industry needs to figure out how to get beyond off-label and fair-balance concerns and allow for productive on-label conversations about treating medical diseases at live speaker events.

  • Matthew Mintz, M.D.

    Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Director, Premier Access and Executive Services at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC. Visit his blog at www.drmintz.com.


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