How to streamline your interactions with drug reps

August 1, 2006

Patients today are demanding more of our time, and, as a result, we have less time to spend with pharmaceutical representatives.

Consequently, high-prescribing physicians can feel inundated by visits from sales representatives. Some urology offices report receiving more than 10 drop-in visits from reps each day. This environment is unproductive for physicians and reps alike. Fielding rep requests and coordinating visits can distract medical office staff from patient care and office management activities.

First, I have made a decision not to see pharmaceutical representatives when I am seeing patients. I can't think of a worse message we could send to patients in the waiting area or exam room than "the salesperson is more important than patients."

To facilitate this, I have asked all the salespeople to call my office and make an appointment. I usually see them before I start seeing patients, during or right after lunch, at the end of the day (rarely), or between cases on days when I am operating at the hospital or at the surgery center.

I tell salespeople that I would like to have both an agenda of what they want to discuss and an estimate of how long the visit will take ahead of time. The purpose of the agenda is to keep them focused on the topic and not to deviate from the purpose of the visit. The agenda also gives me an opportunity to delete topics that I do not want to discuss because I am familiar with the information or the information does not apply to my practice, and to add topics that concern me.

If the rep indicates that the visit will be longer than 10 to 12 minutes, I will usually adjust the time request to one that is more appropriate for my schedule. Again, this keeps the meeting focused. I tell them that a tradeoff for scheduling the appointment and providing me with an agenda letter is that I will see them on time. A sales rep's time is worth approximately $150 per hour, so they don't appreciate sitting in our reception area waiting to see us any more than patients do. I have not found a single rep who has not agreed to my system.

Meeting alternatives

About twice a week, I will allow a drug rep to have a luncheon with our office. My goal is to use this time to build knowledge about their product and the role that it will have in my patients. I will usually join the staff for 20 to 25 minutes and allow the representative to talk about his or her products and ask me about my experience with them. We will also cover the agenda the sales rep submitted. I think it is important to give them this time if they are spending money to feed my staff and me.

Another technique that I have instituted is the use of a service known as PreferredTime, which is designed to make interactions between the physician and the sales rep more efficient and effective. PreferredTime offers coordination between medical offices and sales reps by arranging visits at times convenient for both parties. Additionally, the service provides physicians the opportunity to see a more diverse base of reps who may not have been able to access their offices before due to travel issues or time, scheduling, or resource constraints.