Pharmaceutical sales representative (formerly detailman) are salespeople employed by pharmaceutical companies to persuade doctors to prescribe their drugs to patients. Drug companies in the United States spend ~$5 billion annually sending representatives to doctors, to provide product information, answer questions on product use, and deliver product samples.
Companies maintain this provides an educational service by keeping doctors updated on the latest changes in medical science. Critics point to a systematic use of gifts and personal information (details) to befriend doctors to influence their drug prescriptions.
Representatives have been known as "detailmen" as they acquire and use detailed personal information on doctors such as names of family members, golf handicaps, and even clothing preferences; along with what prescriptions the doctor is writing from IMS Health. The reps are under intense competitive pressure against other drug companies with similar products. Beyond meeting at the doctors office, or during leisure time, the symposium circuit allows reps to discuss with doctors about their preferences while a drug researcher presents a new drug to an audience.
Doctors can receive small gifts, such as free dinners, event or travel tickets, clocks, free drug samples and swag. Controversial inducements include jobs offers for the drug company, consulting / speaking fees, and all-expense-paid travel to resorts and exotic locations where attendance is limited or not mandatory.
Pharmaceutical Representative is a trade journal featuring common sales tactics such as how to close a tough sale by flattering a stubborn doctor. Along with flattery, the attractiveness of sales reps has been noted, with a trend of former cheerleaders entering the field. Researchers note; "seduction appeared to be a deliberate industry strategy", and in informal survey by a doctor found that 12 out of 13 women sales reps said they had been sexually harassed by doctors.
Sales reps push new "me-too" drugs with free samples that are more expensive than existing generic drugs, such as Nexium which costs three times as much as its predecessor Prilosec, with no evidence of improved efficacy. With beta-blockers and statins, me-too drugs have improved results, and increased competition while lowering prices. As me-too drugs are similar but new, their side effects can be unknown and not well understood. Pharmaceutical marketing / reps assert a me-too drug may work better than another, but they "don’t test their me-too drugs in people who have not done well with an earlier drug of the same class."
In 1990, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed laws banning "gifts of substantial value" of drug companies to doctors, however this has changed the gifts from objects to meals and travel.
Encountering ill-informed reps at his practice Dr. Dan Foster, a West Virginia surgeon and lawmaker, introduced a bill to require reps to have science degrees. While it did not pass it lead to a disclosure of minimum hiring requirements.