According to some sales reps, after January 1, 2009 -- when new PhRMA Guidelines for Interaction with Healthcare Professionals (see PMN Reprint #77-01) go into effect -- samples may be the only real form of in-office marketing left.
The drug industry hands out $11.5 billion in free drug samples to physicians every year (2003 number). Although the industry touts free drug samples as a means by which drugs can be made affordable to some needy patients, drug companies must crunch the numbers and pay attention to higher volume physicians with larger managed care opportunities. Samples, for example, can be a strategy to fight certain managed care practices like "step therapy" where a physician is required to first try drugs on formulary and if they fail, then other, non-formulary, drugs may be prescribed. A brand drug strategy for sampling could be to convince physicians that patients will fail on the formulary drugs and when that happens samples of the brand are readily available.
Back to in-office marketing... Samples will not be the only arrow in the sales rep quiver after January 1, 2009. There will still be plenty of allowed activities including free lunch.
A New Loophole for Distributing Free Pens to Physicians
BTW, I have a way in which samples can help drug companies distribute free pens to docs and still abide by PhRMA's guidelines.
Samples are often supplied in starter kits that include all sorts of booklets and other information meant for patients. Often there is just a single pill and the rest is all fluff (ie, patient education materials).
There is no law or PhRMA guideline that prevents pharma companies from distributing starter kits to physicians. No one, I'm sure, looks inside these kits to see that everything is on the up and up. What if these kits included pens and pads with brand logos meant for patients to write themselves adherence messages?
Physicians can simply "redistribute the wealth" by relieving the kits of these "tchotckes" for their own use. After all, many physicians are already using samples for their own use or for use by their friends or staff and their families. Patients won't even know the pens were included in the kits and I'm sure the physicians and their staffs would not rat out the pharma company and expose this clever "loophole."