Edition: September 2001 - Vol 9 Number 09
Article#: 1044
Author: Mark Thill

Did you see the article in the Aug. 20 edition of American Medical News titled, ''Ohio group tells drug reps: We'll listen – if you pay''? What a concept!

A 56-physician multispecialty group in Cincinnati – Queen City Physicians – has announced it will charge drug reps $65 to deliver a 10-minute sales pitch. The group rationalizes the idea by saying it beats accepting free ham, turkey or dinner from a pharma rep. The money is paid to a for-profit company (Physician Access Management Ltd.) set up by the docs, so that it won't look like drug companies are buying visits, said the practice's president. Fifty dollars of each visit will go to the physician group (not to any one doctor), while the remaining $15 will cover Physician Access Management's administrative costs.

I remember hearing about something like this when I wrote for a hospital materials management magazine. If memory serves me correctly, a hospital declared that if reps wanted to call on it, they would have to pay for the privilege. Don't know what ever happened to that idea.

The jury's out on the legality of the Queen City plan. According to American Medical News, the AMA's guidelines on gifts to physicians state that physicians should not accept cash payments. Apparently, Queen City skirts that one by creating the for-profit company, Physician Access Management (a cynical name, if ever I heard one!).

At press time, no reps had signed up for the ''service,'' though several drug companies had reportedly asked to review contracts. Sounds like some kind of standoff. Wonder who'll blink first?

Well, most reps would probably agree that 10 minutes of a physician's time is worth at least $65. It sure beats sitting around in a waiting room for a couple of hours, then waving your company's new four-color brochure to the doctor as he or she walks from one exam room to the other. On the other hand, if reps and drug companies believe they are truly offering an educational service to doctors, why should they have to pay for it? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

That Queen City has come to this point says a lot about how medical pharmaceutical sales are conducted in this country. It sounds like a move born of desperation, frustration and defensiveness even more than the desire to make some extra money. But it is SO American. I mean, it reminds me of baseball players who in the past considered signing autographs a privilege or at least a responsibility, but who now charge for it. Or athletes who used to be honored by being asked to appear on a box of Wheaties, but who now charge the cereal company to use their image.

I won't condemn the docs at Queen City for their scheme. After all, they've got a valuable commodity to sell – their time. And even though I could be tempted to use the Cincinnati story to moan about the sorry state of sales, I won't even go there. Who knows? Maybe turning the sales call into a strictly commercial transaction – as one of the doctors quoted in the American Medical News articles says – is good for everyone. The rep gets his or her face time, the doctor gets his or her information. Done. Deal. What do you think?