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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:

  • Dinner meeting: This is the perfect time to get to a hard-to-reach doctor – not necessarily with information about your drug, but to find out how you can get more time with her. For instance, you might start a conversation by saying, “You’ve got such a busy practice, I don’t want to take up too much of your time when I’m in your office. But as long as we’re both here, maybe you can share with me what you feel are the key things I might be able to do to help you and your patients more effectively?” Let the doctor tell you how to get more time. Ask, “What would I have to do to get more time with you?” Speak to as many doctors as possible; don’t let yourself get caught in the trap of speaking only to the friendliest doctor. That may be the most pleasant way to spend the evening, but it’s not going to accomplish your goals.
  • Speakers Bureau Meetings: These meetings can sometimes be hectic, with many different presentations and events. You may not have as much time to speak with doctors as you’d like. However, you will usually find opportunities to have short conversations. Often, the best time to speak with doctors is at the opening night cocktail party. There are times when these parties seem like junior high dances, when the boys would hang out with each other on one side of the gym and the girls would gather together on the other. At speakers meetings, the doctors often stick together, while the pharmaceuticals reps and marketing people socialize amongst themselves. That’s understandable; it’s where you’re most comfortable. But this is a great time to speak with many different doctors, even if it’s only to find out how receptive they might be to speaking with you later on in the meeting or back in the office. Even if you don’t get to speak to your doctors, you can make observations about them. Listen to the questions they ask speakers after their presentations. They’ll tell you about what they’re most interested in knowing, and what topics spark their hot buttons. Then, the next time you go the doctor’s office, you can say, “I heard you ask our speaker this question at the meeting. Did he answer all your concerns? Is there any other information on that topic I can help you get?” Or you might follow-up by asking what they thought of the speakers, who else they might like to hear at the next meeting, or how you might structure a meeting more effectively. They will not only share this information with you, they will undoubtedly appreciate the fact that you value their opinion. On a lighter note, Tina Walters suggests that you bring a camera to the event, and take photos of your doctors at various times throughout the meeting. Then, when you go back to the doctor’s office, you can bring copies with you to leave with the doctor and get the discussion started.
  • One-on-One Dinners: Tom, a pharmaceutical rep from a mid-sized company, shared with us that he feels least comfortable in this situation (as do many other reps he knows), when he and the doctor are spending a couple of hours together. There’s always the question of how much time to spend on business, and how to make a graceful segue from enjoying a good meal to getting down to the reason you’re there. Most people agree that a 25 to 30 percent is a fair amount of time to spend on business conversation. It need not be a difficult transition if you keep in mind that your overall objective – which is to get the doctor to prescribe your drug – is best accomplished by finding out as much as possible about this doctor and how he or she thinks, feels, and makes decisions. A good way to do this is to concentrate on the doctor’s background. Start off with general questions, and then get more specific. Don’t just ask where the doctor studied medicine, ask questions like: “What made you choose that particular school?” “How did you settle on your particular specialty? What interested you most about it?” “If you were in medical school now, would you choose the same field?” “What do you like most about being a doctor?” “What’s the most difficult part of your job?” The discussion can then easily follow a more direct path to your goal, with questions like, “When you were an intern, what were your first impressions of pharmaceutical reps?” “Has your impression changed over the years?” And finally, “What can I do to make our time together more effective?”

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.

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