Getting more time with Your Doctors
By Dorothy Leeds and Sharyn Kolberg
Pharm Rep Magazine, December 2001
Here’s a fact everyone knows: Doctors are busy people, and getting busier by the minute. Due to the availability of information on the Internet, patients are becoming more knowledgeable than ever (or at least they think they are), and are demanding more time with their doctors. Breakthroughs in every specialty are happening daily; doctors have to devote more time than ever to keeping up on what’s new in their fields. Everyone – including pharmaceutical reps – wants a share of the one thing the doctors have least available: their time.
When we polled pharmaceutical professionals about what subjects would be most useful to them in a Best Practices column, the first answer on their list was gaining access, which we covered in our last column. A close second was gaining more time with the doctor once they got there.
Time is of the Essence
Here’s a true-life scenario Dorothy witnessed as a patient in a doctor’s office: Three pharmaceuticals reps came into a doctor’s office (probably two reps and their manager). The doctor in this office was difficult to see; in fact, reps most often saw her nurse practitioner instead. On this day, however, the doctor had fewer patients than usual and would have had time to see the reps. they didn’t know this, because they didn’t ask. The reps came in with a load of samples, which they proceeded to unload on the nurse practitioner, along with the information they perceived as most important for her to know about the drugs. One rep talked, the other rep talked, the third person (probably a sales manager or a new rep), said nothing, and the trio left in a whirlwind, just minutes after they arrived. Those reps, who (if they’re anything like all the other reps we know) complain about not getting enough time with their doctors, wasted a golden opportunity when they had it.
They were in such a hurry to dispense information; they didn’t take the time to get more time. They could have asked a few simple “sample” questions, for instance, “How often do you use these samples?” “You seem to appreciate our samples. What is the greatest value our drug has for your patients?” “Once you give a patient a sample, could you describe for me exactly what happens after that?” These kinds of questions do more than get you more time at a particular visit – they give you valuable information you can follow up on the next time you go back to see that doctor or nurse.
From the Doctor’s Point of View
The reps above could just as well have been blindfolded and plunked down in a generic doctor’s office in Anytown, USA. They did not take into account the individual to whom they were speaking. It was obvious that their behavior would remain the same no matter whose office they visited. The secret to gaining time, however, is to customize your approach – to use each visit to focus on what it most important to the particular doctor you are seeing.
The incident above took place in the office of Dr. Cynthia Krause, a New York gynecologist. She doesn’t have a lot of time to spare. “The reps I spend time with are the ones who make a strong connection with me, and with what’s important to me,” she says. “If I’m going to prescribe a drug, I need to know more than ‘what it does.’ I need to know exactly what distinguishes this drug from what other companies have to offer, and why it is more beneficial to my patients. The more knowledgeable a rep is in that area, the more time I’ll make available.”
Internist and family practitioner Dr. Nathaniel Shafer agrees and adds that, as with most doctors, new information will gain reps the most time with him. “If you have a new drug to present, or new information about your current drugs – not just old information rehashed – then I’m certainly willing to give you more time,” he says. “But you’ve also got to give me the basics. Don’t just drop off a detail sheet and leave. Sometimes the print on them is so small, it takes all my time to sort through and find the dosage. A rep who knows that this is what I need will get more time from me than the competition.”
Dr. Shafer also writes articles for many prestigious medical publications. “If a rep has read an article I’ve written, I’ll take time to talk to him about it. It’s not a matter of stroking my ego – it’s that I know this rep has taken the time to find out my areas of expertise, and what I’m passionate about. That’s the connection I’m looking for.”
It seems then, that there are two distinct ways to gain time with doctors: First, bring in information (preferably new information) about your drug that every doctor needs to know. Second, introduce topics that are of interest to this specific doctor. The first method is ‘product specific’; the second is ‘communication specific.’ The combination of these two areas will make gaining more time easier to accomplish.
Gaining Time Outside the Office
In order to customize your visits with doctors, you’ve got to learn as much as possible about them. There isn’t always time to do this in an office visit.
“Company sponsored events often offer the best opportunities to get to know your doctors,” says Tina Walters, regional manager for Elan Pharmaceuticals. “You’re on neutral ground – not on the doctors’ turf – and they are ‘captive’ at these events. They’re not dashing off to see patients. They want to be there; there’s something that’s compelling them to be there.”
Of course, you walk a fine line in these situations. You are there for business purposes, but you want to be social as well. You want the doctors to feel relaxed, not pressured. But these occasions are also great opportunities to find out how the doctors think and feel. Here’s how you might take advantage of various outside situations:
The best way to gain more time with your doctors is to strengthen your relationships with them by engaging in meaningful discussions. You don’t engage people by spouting canned information at them. You engage people by getting to know your doctors as individuals and by customizing your message to each one you see.
When we interviewed these doctors for this article, we asked a few simple questions and got revealing answers. These are not deep dark secrets the doctors don’t want you to know. If we learned these things, you can too, and then you can customize your message every time. The more customized your presentation is, the better your chances of gaining more time. Doctors will make themselves available when you talk directly to them, and address their needs, concerns and interests.
Copyright © 2006 Dorothy Leeds Organizational Technologies