The Past, Present And Future Of Medical Representatives
Medical Representatives (MRs), or Professional Service Representatives, Territory Managers, Drug Rep, Pharmaceutical Sales Rep, Detail persons are the most important but critical players at the interface between the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry. They play a vital role in establishing a brand which is a stamp of approval of organized medicines. India’s more than six lakh medical representatives with pharmacy & management education qualifications are increasingly turning into teams of specialists, because a generalist medical representative may find it difficult to explain to a medical practitioner the complex and high-margin drugs they are promoting. Many National and Multi-National Pharmaceutical organizations are hiring management and pharmacy graduates as marketing executives and are paying hefty salaries. Prescription drugs account for close to 90% of India’s Rs 80,000-crore pharmaceuticals market, underscoring the need to take the doctors on board to sell products.
A Swiss pharmaceutical company (F-Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd.) wanted to introduce their products in Japan in 1904. They faced very poor sales through trading companies. Roche decided to begin direct sales in Japan by sending a German Physician Dr. Rudolf Ebeling, from their company. Dr. Rudolf employed Shohei Ninomiya, a Chief Hospital Pharmacist who was trained in medicine and fluent in German. Mr. Ninomiya thus became the first forerunner as ‘Propagandist’ of what is now called medical representatives (MRs). In 1916 The Burroughs Wellcome salesman who showed up to provide the doctor with his free copy of this year’s Excerpta Therapeutica could hardly have expected anything other than a warm welcome as Detail Man. By the early 1930s, prescription products were bringing in larger profits than over-the-counter drugs. It, therefore, began to make economic sense for companies to invest more heavily in sales staff who had the credentials and the techniques to win over physicians. The job responsibilities of a Medical Representative was one of scientific selling in every sense of the word, therefore their attributes have to be of a salesman first, last, and always.
In today’s context an MR is an uninvited guest inside the Physician’s chamber. 51% doctors said that they are already aware of the drug information that MRs provide was revealed in a physicians annual study conducted by ePharma. MRs are required to meet the expectations of the Medical practitioners to go beyond the basics and deliver higher inputs to their practice. With a rising focus on evidence-based medicine and personalized treatment plans, doctors are hopeful that their next meeting with MRs involves a more scientific dialogue. Rising medico-legal cases in our country are also driving doctors to gain a complete understanding of the drugs they prescribe.
While the medical community has grown comfortable with digital tools, many pharma companies are yet to come up with a comprehensive digital plan that also integrates with field force activities. This has left doctors extremely dissatisfied. Even the MRs themselves, are an unhappy lot. Today’s MR is living in uncertain times, fearing professional redundancy and irrelevance. High degree of discontentment in the field force may be due to over-ambitious sales targets, confusion between drug pharmacology and sales, incomplete training and poor adoption of digital solutions, unable to satisfy physicians’ needs, job insecurity and poor recruitment rules of the companies and employing all types of untrained stuff with poor technical & communication skills.
There is an urgent need to bring about the change in the concept of selling products with modern therapeutic ingredients in the field of Oncology, Endocrinology, and Cardio-Vascular diseases. So the pharma industry must accept and adapt to scientific deliberations rather than simple service-oriented strategies.
It is understood that Physicians interactions with medical representatives would be more valuable if the reps could share precise information that is relevant and personalized for them. The effectiveness and safety profile of the product will always remain the prime considerations to prescribe a drug and searched the most. Additionally new clinical information its relevance and Real World Evidence are those factors that also influence the selection of a drug. It is also predicted that physicians mostly continue to rely on scientific content provided or sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. The prescribing information remains the most sought-after data by physicians globally. Physicians place a higher emphasis on treatment guidelines and disease information also.
It is observed that top Pharma players employ a field force of around 5000 and reserve close to 20% of their total outlay on hiring and training them. More than 60% of the total promotional budget is allocated to field force activities. Pharma companies have not changed their style of operations and dealing with the medical community whereas regulatory, scientific, and technological changes are transforming the doctors’ world. A “physician-first” strategy for prompt responses to queries and requests, transparent product detailing, and maintaining a constant connection would be the need of the hour. Pharma companies should immediately discard old practices and develop authentic and relevant content that is concise and easily accessible in digital format. The preference of channels that physicians would use to engage with MRs will include web portals, emails to share information or updates, text and social messaging, and the use of video chats/ product profile videos to share information in the coming time.
A well qualified, nurtured, and trained Medical Representative would not only be a huge profit center for the company but also add value to the creditability of that organization.