Back in March, 2011, I reviewed a PhRMA sponsored survey of physicians the results of which PhRMA claimed shows that "nearly eight out of 10 physicians view pharmaceutical research companies and their sales representatives as useful sources of information on prescription medicines" (see "New PhRMA Survey of Physicians: Are Sales Reps as "Useful" as PhRMA Wants Us to Believe?"). If you look at a chart of the relevant data (see below), however, you see that the 80% mentioned by PhRMA includes 53% of physicians who find sales reps only "somewhat useful." Only 26% of physicians surveyed found reps "very useful."
Yesterday, I came across the Wolters Kluwer Health Point-of-Care survey of physicians, part of which looked at where physicians receive information to make decisions about diagnoses, treatment and ongoing patient care (see press release and executive summary here). This study asked physicians: "How often do you use the following sources to gain information used to diagnose, treat and care for patients?" The results are shown in the following chart:
The trends are comparable (eg, prof'l journals are rank near the top and sales reps rank near the bottom in both surveys), but you can't group the Wolters Kluwer categories "frequently" and "occasionally" together as well as you can group together PhRMA's "very useful" and "somewhat useful" categories. Because of the way PhRMA designed it's study -- using categories that can easily be combined -- they were able to spin the results favorably, whereas no such spin of the data is possible in the Wolters Kluwer survey.
So, looking at ALL the data, IMHO, the best that can be said in answer to my question is that most physicians find pharma sales reps among the least important sources of information they use to help them diagnose, treat and care for their patients.
P.S. (27-MAR-2012) I just came across another study attempting to answer the question "Do physicians find sales reps useful?" The study comes from Cegedim Strategic Data (CSD), a provider of integrated healthcare market research. CSD analyzed physician-reported diary entries of recent sales calls. Results from over 30 countries showed that overall 93.8% of physicians worldwide, both GPs and specialists, "find sales representative calls useful and of value to their practice, based on over 5.6 million product detailing mentions" (find more details here).
I believe CSD's methodology asks physicians to evaluate recent sales calls. This technique eliminates physicians who did not receive any sales calls, which skews the data to favor physicians who like sales reps to begin with. The CSD study does not compare usefulness of reps compared to other sources of information.
In any case, it's amazing how many studies are out there and how difficult it is to get a straight answer to a simple question.