Aren’t reps simply doing their job?

The pharmaceutical rep’s legitimate goal in capitalist societies is to increase profits, and this is their motivation in the doctor-rep interaction.

Pharmaceutical companies have the right to advertise their product, and they know that using this very expensive form of personal one-on-one advertising gets results. This justifies to their shareholders the employment of well-paid, personable, university-educated reps who spend long hours on the road seeing a handful of doctors each day.

Signing this pledge does not imply that you believe this practice is unethical or ‘evil’ on the part of pharmaceutical companies or their reps. We are not asking for some sort of ban, nor even asking pharmaceutical companies to reduce their number of reps – while every other rival company has reps, this is unlikely to occur. We are concerned here with the doctor’s role, appealing to doctors to reduce (to zero, if possible) their interaction with all drug reps, across all companies. This is not in any way designed to be an insult to any individual rep, who after all is merely fulfilling their required role.

The doctor’s role contrasts markedly with the rep’s role. The doctor’s job is to provide the most appropriate management for their patient. Ethically, the doctor should take reasonable steps to ensure their decision as to which medication to prescribe (if any), is based on sound, unbiased evidence.

The doctor (usually, and ideally) makes no profit or loss from this decision, but directs someone else’s money (the patient’s and taxpayer’s) towards a particular medication purchase. Given the strength of evidence showing that drug reps influence doctor’s prescribing, it is safer and more ethical for a doctor not to see reps. All the information and evidence which the rep provides is available elsewhere, and usually from sources with less vested interest in increasing sales.

Just because it is the rep’s job to knock on the surgery door does not mean that it is the doctor’s job to invite them inside for a sales chat. We suggest a polite ‘No advertising, please.’