Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Much Ado in Springfield, IL

OK, guys, it is a long story, for a town that used to seem like nothing much happened there since they buried Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

The first thing that happened is a drug rep dinner gone sour, which has ended up in threats from some local docs of a libel action against a drug rep whom they accuse of sending out poison pen letters about them. The brouhaha attracted the notice of a local health reporter, Dean Olsen, to whom I'm grateful for most of this information. The newspaper, the State Journal-Register, quite correctly noted that while the flap between the drug rep and the docs was the apparent headline, the real story had to do with the ubiquity of these dinners and the way that the industry woos physicians, and addressed these larger issues in a nice editorial:

The editorial itself is interesting, but especially interesting is the strong of comments e-mailed in response. (I'm writing this as there are 34 comments posted; by the time you log on there may be more.) Seems like this issue really struck a nerve. On the one hand is an avid free marketer who is upset at any suggestion that drug reps should be restricted or regulated, and is quite blunt about what this is all about (selling, not "education"):

So now the SJR is against sales people? I dont see a problem with the drug reps hosting dinners for the Doctors. If you have ever been to a doctor's office, you will notice that they are very busy. The only time a drug rep has a chance to meet with the doctor in order to sell his drug is usually at on off site event.

Some folks responded as you'd imagine they would, and so this commentator came back with:

So, you guys are saying that it is wrong to take someone to lunch or dinner? Jeez, get with it, that is the way business works. Maybe not in your liberal textbooks taught by bearded professors who enjoy tenure and never have to work for a living but it is reality. Business entertainment is not limited to health care. They all do it. Why? Because it works. I took a client golfing in North Carolina. Why? I got to spend 8 hours with the guy discussing the benefits of my product. And why do you say that the sales people lie? Honestly, I think the customer lies much more often than sales people. Bottom line is in order to sell your product you have to tell people about it. This dinner was a way for the drug rep to bring his expert in and speak with the doctors.

(Note to anyone interested: I do not have a beard.)

Another commentator came to the reps' defense as the bearers of samples:

So the SJR wants freebies stopped. OK - then the paper can explain to patients who cannot afford their medication why free samples are no longer available. For some, the free samples left by drug reps are the only access they have to necessary medications. How many times have you gone to the doctor and left with samples of your medications? Did you enjoy not having to pay for them? Thank a drug rep (and his/her company!). Granted, drug companies are not all wonderful, but they and their reps are not truly evil either. Everyone needs to get their facts straight about how drug reps REALLY do their jobs before slinging insulting and erroneous opinions. It is hard work that often does NOT result in the doctor writing your drug. BTW, no, I am not a rep, just someone who actually cared to be informed before judging others.

Someone else added approvingly:

Thank goodness for the free samples the drug rep give out. Without them and their free samples, we would have a national health care crisis.

Whew! And here I thought we already had a national health crisis. Silly me.

This could go on forever but I will close with a comment from someone who sees it from the restaurant side:

Several years ago I worked for a restaurant that was attempting to build up it's lunch delivery business. Quite by accident I discovered the "drug rep" market and immediately capitalized on it since I was on commission. I also discovered that there were many local doctors who would only see a drug rep if they provided lunch for the entire office staff - no exceptions. The doctors considered it a perk that they were providing free daily lunch for their staff even though it didn't actually come out of their (well-compensated) pockets. Guess who really pays for all these free lunches. You and me, every time we buy medicine. Very few people know about this corrupted system unless they work in this industry. I believe this should be regulated the same way we've restricted the way our elected representatives can be lobbied (which isn't perfect either, but better).

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