Intended for healthcare professionals


Pharmaceutical representatives

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 15 June 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1494
  1. Allen F Shaughnessy,
  2. David C Slawson
  1. Director of research Harrisburg Family Practice Residency Program, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8700, USA
  2. Associate professor Department of Family Medicine, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville, VA, USA

    Effective if used with caution

    Pharmaceutical representatives are the “stealth bombers” of medicine: they swoop in, change physicians' prescribing habits (better than any journal article or formal educator), and disappear again. In the United States there is one drug representative for every 15 practising physicians—a teacher to student ratio that would be the envy of many universities. Though some doctors welcome the free samples and gifts, most dismiss representatives' information as a sales pitch. However, when their advice is actively sought and treated with caution, they can be a valuable source of new information for a busy doctor.

    Obtaining information from drug representatives requires minimal effort. As communication experts, drug representatives package their messages into tight bundles, delivering them neatly between patients, often accompanied by a free lunch. Their bottom line message—“prescribe my drug”—is seemingly supported by medical evidence, yet this is frequently intermingled with emotional appeals and …

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