A philosopher’s take on Big Pharma marketing

You may not expect to find an ivory tower academic whose erudite specialty is philosophy hanging out at drug marketing conferences, but that’s where you would have found Dr. Sergio Sismondo a few years ago. The professor of philosophy at my old stomping ground, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, turned up at the annual meeting of the International Society of Medical Planning Professionals, one of two large organizations representing medical communications firms.

A medical communications firm is a business that sells services to pharmaceutical and other companies for “managing” the publication and placement of scientific research papers for maximal marketing impact, often  running a full publicity campaign to help sell the drug being “studied”. This is an alarmingly widespread practice in which drug companies essentially decide what your physician will end up reading in medical journals.  Continue reading

Bad doctors earning good money from Big Pharma

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit news agency that produces investigative journalism in the public interest – and this year, it became the first online newsroom to win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. When they start digging, they find something interesting. Lately, ProPublica has been investigating Big Pharma marketing,  particularly the growing practice of recruiting, training and paying doctors to give presentations to other docs about specific drugs.

They’re part of the pharmaceutical industry’s white-coat sales force, doctors paid to promote brand name prescription drugs to their peers — and if they’re convincing enough, to get more physicians to prescribe them.   Continue reading

Is your doctor a “thought leader”?

When a drug company’s sales rep needs to get a doctor to write more prescriptions for his company’s drug, there’s one almost foolproof way to get that task accomplished, according to a revealing National Public Radio report called Drug Company Flattery Wins Docs, Influences Prescriptions.

“To get a doctor to write more prescriptions, the drug rep asks the doctor to become a speaker on the company’s Speakers Bureau.”

For example, drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, like most other drug companies, hires doctors to speak to other doctors as part of their Speakers Bureau marketing efforts. The top GSK drug that their paid Speakers Bureau doctors talk about is called Avodart, a drug prescribed to treat enlarged prostates, and which has been locked in a heated sales battle with its main competition, Merck’s Proscar (now available as a generic).

But over the past five years of these Speakers Bureau presentations, Avodart has seen its sales more than quadruple and its market share double. Convincing a doctor to push your drug to his/her peers during a paid Speakers Bureau presentation really does seem to work.

According to this NPR report (in partnership with the Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalists from ProPublica), drug companies train their sales reps to approach potential Speakers Bureau doctors in a very specific way. Drug reps use language that deliberately fosters the idea that the Speakers Bureau doctors they hire are educators, and not just educators, but the “smartest of the smart”.

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