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Drug reps use psychological tactics to successfully influence doctors' prescribing habits

Monday, July 30, 2007
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of NaturalNews.com (See all articles...)
Tags: physicians, medical ethics, drug prescribing

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Pharmaceutical companies spend more than $15 billion each year promoting prescription drugs in the United States. One-third of that amount is spent on "detailing" -- an industry term for drug company representatives' one-on-one promotion to doctors. A paper published April 24, 2007 in the Public Library of Science journal Medicine uncovers the tactics which pharmaceutical sales representatives, commonly called "drug reps," are trained to use in promoting drugs to prescribing physicians.

"It's my job to figure out what a physician's price is. For some it's dinner at the finest restaurants, for others it's enough convincing data to let them prescribe confidently and for others it's my attention and friendship... but at the most basic level, everything is for sale and everything is an exchange," stated former Eli Lilly drug rep Shahram Ahari.

Ahari, no longer a drug rep, co-wrote the paper with Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The paper is based on conversations between Ahari and Fugh-Berman, who researches pharmaceutical marketing.

The writers report that drug reps are trained to gather as much personal information as possible about the doctors to whom they are promoting pharmaceuticals -- from birthdays and hobbies to religious affiliation. Drug reps are trained to note any detail that can be used to establish a personal relationship with a doctor. Ahari stated, "During training, I was told, when you're out to dinner with a doctor, 'The physician is eating with a friend. You are eating with a client.'"

Drug reps offer gifts, and not just mugs and pens inscribed with drug names. "The highest prescribers receive better presents," wrote Ahari. Pharmaceutical companies rank doctors according to the number of prescriptions they write -- from 1 at the low end to 10 for high prescribers. According to Ahari, "Some reps said their 10s might receive unrestricted 'educational' grants so loosely restricted that they were the equivalent of a cash gift."

The source of the 1-to-10 ranking data is prescription tracking. So-called "health information organizations" (including IMS Health, Dendrite and Verispan) purchase prescription records from pharmacies. According to the authors, IMS Health buys records of about 70 percent of prescriptions filled by community pharmacies. Pharmaceutical companies purchase the records and use them to identify high-prescribing doctors.

How the AMA earns millions by helping drug companies buy influence

Prescription tracking records do not always identify doctors by name; in some cases they are identified by a state or federal license number or a pharmacy-specific identifier. To establish the identity of the prescribing doctors, pharmaceutical companies rely on the American Medical Association (AMA), which maintains a Physician Masterfile on every U.S. physician. Citing the New England Journal of Medicine, the authors wrote, "In 2005, database product sales, including an unknown amount from licensing Masterfile information, provided more than $44 million to the AMA."

Once the high prescribers are identified, the drugs reps are then directed to reward those doctors with attention and gifts. The highest prescribing doctors are the ones with whom the drug reps work hardest to build relationships. According to Ahari, "The highest prescribers (9s and 10s) are every rep's sugar mommies and daddies." Lower prescribing doctors are hardly ignored, however; Ahari explained that he was taught to "pick a handful out and make them feel special enough" and then associate increased prescribing with personal attention and a reward such as dinner at a fine restaurant.

When doctors express skepticism about a certain drug, reps will take one of several approaches. One tactic is to present the doctors with journal articles that counter the doctor's perceptions. "Armed with the articles and having hopefully scheduled a 20 minute appointment (so the doc can't escape), I play dumb and have the doc explain to me the significance of my article," wrote Ahari. The drug rep then asks the doctor to prescribe the medication based on his or her own explanation (to the sales rep) of the journal articles.

Yet another tactic, reserved for doctors who prefer a competing drug, is described by Ahari: "We force the doctors to constantly explain their prescribing rationale, which is tiresome. Our intent is to engage in discourse but also to wear down the doc until he or she simply agrees to try the product for specific instances."

The pharmaceutical industry employs 100,000 drug reps whose job is, first and foremost, to sell drugs. Their tactics are on par with some of the most clever and potent brainwashing techniques used throughout the world, including those used on political prisoners to convince them to denounce their home nations. Doctors are, in effect, being successfully targeted and influenced through advanced brainwashing campaigns designed to alter prescribing behavior and sell more high-profit drugs. Far from being immune to such techniques, it appears that physicians are remarkably susceptible to them.

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About the author:Mike Adams (aka the "Health Ranger") is a best selling author (#1 best selling science book on Amazon.com) and a globally recognized scientific researcher in clean foods. He serves as the founding editor of NaturalNews.com and the lab science director of an internationally accredited (ISO 17025) analytical laboratory known as CWC Labs. There, he was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for achieving extremely high accuracy in the analysis of toxic elements in unknown water samples using ICP-MS instrumentation. Adams is also highly proficient in running liquid chromatography, ion chromatography and mass spectrometry time-of-flight analytical instrumentation.

Adams is a person of color whose ancestors include Africans and Native American Indians. He's also of Native American heritage, which he credits as inspiring his "Health Ranger" passion for protecting life and nature against the destruction caused by chemicals, heavy metals and other forms of pollution.

Adams is the founder and publisher of the open source science journal Natural Science Journal, the author of numerous peer-reviewed science papers published by the journal, and the author of the world's first book that published ICP-MS heavy metals analysis results for foods, dietary supplements, pet food, spices and fast food. The book is entitled Food Forensics and is published by BenBella Books.

In his laboratory research, Adams has made numerous food safety breakthroughs such as revealing rice protein products imported from Asia to be contaminated with toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium and tungsten. Adams was the first food science researcher to document high levels of tungsten in superfoods. He also discovered over 11 ppm lead in imported mangosteen powder, and led an industry-wide voluntary agreement to limit heavy metals in rice protein products.

In addition to his lab work, Adams is also the (non-paid) executive director of the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center (CWC), an organization that redirects 100% of its donations receipts to grant programs that teach children and women how to grow their own food or vastly improve their nutrition. Through the non-profit CWC, Adams also launched Nutrition Rescue, a program that donates essential vitamins to people in need. Click here to see some of the CWC success stories.

With a background in science and software technology, Adams is the original founder of the email newsletter technology company known as Arial Software. Using his technical experience combined with his love for natural health, Adams developed and deployed the content management system currently driving NaturalNews.com. He also engineered the high-level statistical algorithms that power SCIENCE.naturalnews.com, a massive research resource featuring over 10 million scientific studies.

Adams is well known for his incredibly popular consumer activism video blowing the lid on fake blueberries used throughout the food supply. He has also exposed "strange fibers" found in Chicken McNuggets, fake academic credentials of so-called health "gurus," dangerous "detox" products imported as battery acid and sold for oral consumption, fake acai berry scams, the California raw milk raids, the vaccine research fraud revealed by industry whistleblowers and many other topics.

Adams has also helped defend the rights of home gardeners and protect the medical freedom rights of parents. Adams is widely recognized to have made a remarkable global impact on issues like GMOs, vaccines, nutrition therapies, human consciousness.

In addition to his activism, Adams is an accomplished musician who has released over a dozen popular songs covering a variety of activism topics.

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