Famous Last Words: Big News for Direct Marketers?
From The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 20, 2004:
Hospitals Get Tough With Drug Firm Reps
By Fawn Vrazo
Inquirer Staff Writer
The several dozen drug company reps gathered yesterday at a Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania auditorium weren’t there to pitch drugs. They were trying to persuade the Penn system not to pitch them out.
Like other health-system leaders unhappy with practices of drug representatives, Penn officials are considering banning them from talking to doctors at their three hospitals. Drug company freebies such as pens, notepads and the pink cookies marking breast cancer awareness month might be outlawed. “Even token items,” said P.J. Brennan, patient safety chief for the University of Pennsylvania Health System, “can create the impression of a quid pro quo” between doctors and drug sellers.
Ever been in a doctor’s waiting room where an obvious nonpatient was parked in the corner with a satchel of material—a bland-faced young man in a suit and tie or an efficient-looking late-twenty-something yuppie in a sharp skirt and blouse and severe hairdo? These are the “detail men” (or “detail people” I guess is proper in this politically correct era).
These drug company piranhas are waiting for a break in the physician’s schedule so they can pitch their wares, unload a ton of samples, and hand out all kinds of bribes that persuade the doctor to prescribe their company’s drug over that of the competition or the generic version.
The Internet reported a prime-time interview with upstate New York doctor Rudy Mueller who admitted to receiving some $10,000 worth of loot from pharmaceutical companies over just a four-month period—an all-expenses-paid trip to a resort in Florida, dinner cruises, hockey game tickets, a ski trip for the family, Omaha Steaks’ steaks, a day at a spa and free computer equipment. That comes out to an extra $30,000 a year—tax free. “It’s very tempting and they just keep anteing it up,” said Dr. Mueller. “And it’s getting harder to say ‘no.’ I feel in some ways it’s kind of like bribery.”
The idea of the medical community throwing detail people out on the street offers a gorgeous opportunity for the direct marketing community. Yes, the pharmies will continue to reach consumers via their clever TV spots and magazine ads (with two pages of mousetype, san serif disclaimers for every one page of advertising). But with no traveling army of detail people combined with Can Spam and do-not-call laws, the only way they can talk in great detail to the individual doctor on a one-to-one basis is (Yessss!) through direct mail.
Get this: The national consumer health organization Families USA released a report titled “Profiting From Pain: Where Prescription Drug Dollars Go.” The conclusion, as reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer article:
The nine publicly traded U.S. drug companies, which manufacture 50 of the drugs most often prescribed to seniors, spent $45.4 billion on marketing and advertising in 2001 and only $19.1 billion on research and development.
That’s $45.4 BILLION on advertising and marketing!
So how do we make this happen? We persuade the DMA to start Ban the Detailers—a 501(c)(3) organization with a twofold mission: (1) to shame the medical profession into no longer accepting these outrageous bribes from the pharmies, and (2) to lobby congress into outlawing detail people, citing their ipso-facto conflict of interest (drug profits vs. patients’ welfare). Once the detail people are out of the way, direct mailers have the monopoly on reaching doctors and can start tapping into that juicy $45.4 billion. Yum, yum.
Alas, no doubt physicians nationwide would fight to the death their right to hear about new drugs first hand (and collect all that boodle—especially since their income is so diminished because of reduced Medicare and insurance payments and the wallet-busting cost of malpractice premiums).
My guess is that an honest doctor is like an honest politician these days: Once he’s been bought he stays bought.
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He is the author of three marketing books and three published novels. You are invited to visit him at www.dennyhatch.com.