The role of drug reps in healthcare industryI came to learn of a very disturbing decision made by Court of Appeals on an issue to do with drug marketing. Two judges gave an insane ruling determining that drug representatives who promote uses of a drug ‘off label’ are exercising their freedom of speech. Let us have a look at the office of a typical doctor to see what I am talking about.

Why drug companies use marketing reps

Of the many ways in which pharmaceutical companies use to market their drugs, two of these ways are quite distasteful, i.e. immoral, dangerous and annoying. The first one is the direct to consumer marketing. For instance, if you are giving chest pain, just use Brand A aspirin and you will be okay. Another way is whereby drug reps or drug company marketers visit doctor’s offices. In either of two cases, people who sell these products are leaving no stones unturned and are doing their best to have patients asking for specific drugs and the doctors are prescribing it there and then.

According to drug companies, what they are doing is just providing an important service i.e. making doctors more educated and informed about new medications. However, the obvious fallacy is that their actual incentive is really not educating but inculcating. There have been ways in which this practice is regulated whereby drug reps are told that they are only allowed to promote a drug for specific uses that are FDA approved. For instance, if NewSuperDrug is approved by FDA for improvement of hair growth, drug reps can’t go about saying that the drug also helps with blood pressure and asking patients to try it, unless in Second Circuit.

When marketing of drugs get complicated

But there is a reason that makes things a little sticky. There is no doubt that the drug could be great for dealing with blood pressure and a physician can prescribe the drug for that use. However, as far as marketing goes, the manufacturers must always stick to exactly what FDA approved. This is quite bad starting with the fact that physicians shouldn’t get information about drugs from reps. Even though it is quite hard to go through literature that contain publication biases and shenanigans of drug companies, this doesn’t mean that it is impossible. Websites, conferences and medical associations provide doctors with less biased information compared to those who benefit from the prescriptions you give.

By reputation, drug reps are young, sociable and attractive and at times, they will opt to feed you. Most medical centers particularly those participating in medical education and the like have all banned drug reps. However, doctors offices usually let them in and are encouraged to bring samples of generic drugs like all asthma drugs. With the entry of free speech, it is quite hard to limit what such folks can say and as such, it is good that doctors stop talking to drug reps.