Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Free Samples: The Drug Rep's Last Great Hope

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."


  1. Anonymous4:15 PM

    Are Drug Reps Really Necessary?

    One of the main functions of pharmaceutical representatives is to provide free samples to doctor’s offices presently instead of authentic persuasion, and these samples in themselves cost billions to the pharmaceutical industry. Yet arguably, samples are the most influential tool in influencing the prescribing habit of a health care provider. Let me be clear on that point: Its samples, not a representative, who may be the top influencer of prescribing habits.
    Yet considering that drug promotion cost overall is approaching 20 billion a year, combined with about 5 billion spent on drug reps themselves, what if there is another way for doctors to get free drug samples, which is what they desire for their patients to initiate various treatment regimens? What if prescribers could with great elation avoid drug reps entirely?
    There is, actually, a way to do this, but it is limited. With some select, smaller pharma companies, doctors have the ability to order samples by printing order forms on line for certain medications through certain web sites associated with the manufacturers of these samples. Some examples are such medications that can be ordered in this way are keflex, extendryl, and allerx. Possibly several more can or are available to prescribers in this way. Others, however, cannot be acquired by this method.
    So in some situations, a doctor can go on line, print off a sample order form, fax it into a designated fax number after completion of the form, and the samples are shipped directly to the doctor’s office with some products thanks to their manufacturers who provide this avenue. There is no review of the doctors’ prescribing habits by the drug rep. And no embellishments stated by reps actually sounds pretty good for any medical community.
    Usually, this system is available for those smaller companies with very small sales forces to compensate for what may be vacant territories, but can be applied to any pharmaceutical company who, upon discretion, could implement such a system.
    Now, why is this not done more often? Apparently, it is legal to obtain samples in this manner. If samples are the number one influencer of prescribing habits, why spend all the money on reps to deliver samples personally? It’s worth exploring, possibly, since the drug rep profession has evolved into those who become UPS in a nice suit.
    Think of the money that could be saved if more pharma companies offered samples to doctors in this manner. Furthermore, additional benefits with this ideal system are that there is no interruption of the doctor’s practice. And again, there is no risk of bias presented to the doctor by a rep, as they would avoid contact with reps if they order samples through this way- to have the samples directly to be shipped to their office.
    When samples are shipped to doctors’ offices in this manner, prescribing information of the particular med is included with the samples shipped. Doctors can order and utilize samples according to their discretion, and would be free of interference from the marketing elements of pharmaceutical corporations. Patients benefit when this occurs.
    Considering the high costs associated with the pharmaceutical industry, having samples shipped directly to doctor’s offices should be utilized more than it is presently- regardless of the size of the pharmaceutical company.
    Something to think about as one ponders cost savings regarding this issue.

    “The new source of power is not money in the hands of a few but information in the hands of many.”
    ---- John Naisbitt

    Dan Abshear
    Author’s note: What has been written has been based upon information and belief.

  2. Anonymous9:27 AM

    I'm a drug rep. I will go with you in this one. Lets say we knock out the rep and let doctors or nurses order themselves without form a "website" or fax. You tend to forget. Believe it or not, doctors don't naturally know everything and need to be educated about the samples. Or should we just assume doctors have all the time in the world to research all 2000 different kinds of drugs in a samples closet? They can barely spend more than 4 minutes per patients let alone have time to research. You idea to a bit elementary and tried before in history. I know many patients that have to try two or three drug samples before they find something that works for them. The value of samples is priceless. It allows them to find their true help in a form of a drug without the $$$$ being spent. Drug are always being altered and improved. Reps are responsible for relaying the change to the docs. It sounds to me like you did not get a 2nd interview for that drug rep position- Shocker, with 1st grade idea and mind like yours, I would not call you back either. Don't you think the stingy mega-billion dollar drug companies have tried to lessen that rep before? Hey I have a great new idea too. It's has to do with thing where you get into it, and it has four tire. It even had a motor.

  3. Anonymous3:05 AM

    im a pharma marketing student.. resently i have project on 'effects of free sample on doctors pres ription ... i will go with you in these one.. coz it really stops the global loss of free drug sample that get stored in docyors cabine.. during my research i faced so many things about doctors behavoir

  4. Bradley10:19 AM

    Giving random people free samples of drugs is surely never going to work, I have seen the odd gratisfaction free samples which sometimes have free weight loss pills but never gone for them so i guess thats the same thing. a very dangerous line to go down i think x


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