Hurrah for those brave individuals across the water who are planning to become involved in a mass “overdose” involving homeopathic remedies this week. Doubtless some suicide patient groups will be up in arms about this eye-catching campaign but we love its powerfully subtle messaging.
Readers with an eye on trends will know that there has been rep force carnage in the United States lately. The reasons for this are alarmingly familiar - physicians' weariness with sales calls combined with the sheer overabundance of reps detailing each drug makers' various products. Worse still, American medical schools and teaching hospitals have begun unveiling restrictive new rules for pharma rep visits. It has all meant there is a growing appetite for solutions and new strategies.
A fascinating new book reveals how the impressively moustachioed pharma pioneer Sir Henry Wellcome helped create the role of the modern medical sales representative. His company, who subsequently morphed into what is now GSK, was the first to visit doctors in hospitals and favoured ‘gentlemanly’ individuals who wore frock coats, silk hats and had sample bags of real crocodile skin.
Times have certainly changed, with stilettos and Mont Blanc document cases now more the fashion, but many of Wellcome’s innovations – samples, engaging advertisements in medical journals and promotional stands at medical meetings – remain part of marketing activity more than a hundred years on. And company representatives still strive to project a “scientific” image just as Wellcome vowed they should.
If you’ve been to the cinema of late you may have spotted trailers for a new release called Extraordinary Measures. It stars Harrison Ford as a doctor and researcher risking all to try and help the parents of a child with an extremely rare illness and looks like a must-see for anyone involved in the marketing of medicines.
It’s been a very long time – 18 years in fact – since we’ve had a movie that didn’t portray drug developers as the devil incarnate. So here’s your starter for ten: what has Extraordinary Measure got in common with the magical Lorenzo’s Oil that it doesn’t share the host of ‘evil pharma’ films released since 1992 – Deep Blue Sea, The Fugitive, Mission Impossible II and The Constant Gardener to name but a few?
How closely do you look at competitor advertisements in the Irish medical press, packed as they are with strolling, kite-flying, bicycling, smiling individuals of a certain age? Well two companies haven’t looked closely enough if a tip-off received by your correspondent is to be believed.
A recent survey by a recruitment agency (who else) has suggested that doctors and nurses are the sexiest professions. Most people admitted they would date people on their jobs with doctors closely followed amongst women respondents by pilots, firemen and, er, lawyers. The lads also aimed high placing nurses top of their wish list followed by dancers, air hostesses and secretaries. Refuse collectors were least popular amongst women while men said they’d never date a glamour model.
Speaking of glamorous, attractive doctors, has anyone spotted ‘Dr Brenda’ staring out from advertisements for newly-built homes in Portlaoise? A full-page spread quotes the medic telling would-be homeowners of her joy on purchasing a three-bedroom gaffe in the town’s Bellingham development.“There’s a long list of beautiful features to choose from,” says Brenda, who is naturally wearing her white coat and stethoscope. ‘Close examination has proved me right’ was the headline writer’s play on words.
Working on a presentation recently, I had cause to ponder medical breakthroughs. Helpfully, Time magazine offers a top ten for everything from gadgets to heroes. Even though there was a discernible American focus, I was still surprised by how few of their top ten medical discoveries had impacted popular consciousness here.
Am I the only one to find it ironic that Botox is increasingly being heralded as a potential wonder drug? After all, this was supposedly the least clinical product in a doctor’s armoury and the reputation of many members of the profession plummeted amongst colleagues as a consequence of perceived over-enthusiasm for the injections.
Now, the Archives of Dermatology is reporting data that indicates Botox may help alleviate severe migraines. The study suggests patients given Botox reported their migraines reduced to less than one day per month from seven. Prof Jeffrey Dover, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at Yale, said responders required little or no pain medication for headaches in the months after receiving their Botox injections.
Where have Irish companies been going to source new staff? The answer, of course, is other pharma companies. A witty consultant once observed two rival product managers becoming over-friendly in a social setting at a US cardiology event some years back and coined the phrase ‘medical inter-pollination’. And such trans-company attractions hold true in the employment setting as well. But at least Ireland’s not alone in what some might argue is a rather lazy and unimaginative approach to sourcing new talent. A very recent survey in the US found that 91 per cent of companies there would target other pharma company employees when seeking new staff – in this instance, medical sales reps. More than 83 per cent of responders valued pharma sales experience more than interpersonal skills or business acumen.
Hospital managers have been guarding their drug budgets with the tenacity of pit-bulls of late, much to the woe of some patients seeking certain treatments. It’s a shame they aren’t quite as motivated on trimming back other expenditure – such as reducing staff sick day bills and increasing productivity – but them’s the breaks.
Under-pressure hospitals in the UK have come up with an intriguing funding solution that, thankfully, we’re likely to be spared. Companies in Ireland have long been battling the problem of cheap parallel imports but I’ll bet you never thought that institutions such as The Royal Surrey County Hospital were among those involved in the trade?