It is well-known that pharmaceutical companies spend millions on giving free samples or drug reps influence doctors with fine gifts. This technique has been followed in pharmaceutical sales since ancient times and still continues. Unlike other salespeople who provide door-to-door service or use gadgets to communicate, a drug rep works beyond these ways. Gifts aren’t just the part of their sales act, drug reps greatly influence doctors by winning their trust and building friendships.

Drug reps may be genuinely friendly, but they are not genuine friends. They are chosen for their approachability and outgoing natures and are taught to be observant, likable and useful. Since a doctor’s personal information matters more than prescribing preferences, a drug rep is properly trained to study a doctor’s personalities, practice format and inclinations, his professional and personal interests, family life and recreational pursuits. They have to remember minute details about objects in a doctor’s office such as a photo present on desk, trophies, book collection, paintings, cultural or religious symbols, etc. After getting a closer look at a doctor’s life, they have to enter all this information into a database of the company. Free samples are provided to doctors in order to gain entry into doctors’ offices and to habituate physicians prescribing targeted drugs.

Then they proceed by using this information to be ‘friends’ with the doctor and influence his prescription. A friendly doctor makes the rep’s job easy, because, in the form of prescriptions, the rep may use the “friendship” easily to request favors. Physicians who view this exchange as a straightforward goods-for-prescriptions exchange are dealt with in a businesslike manner. Whereas skeptical doctors that are curious and feel the necessity for evidence instead of friendships are approached respectfully, supplied with reprints from the medical literature, and wooed as teachers. Sometimes doctors refuse to see the reps, in such a situation, their staff is dined and flattered in the expectation that they might serve as messengers for communications from a rep.

Another way reps use to track doctor’s activities are by referring to prescription data to see how many of a physician’s patients receive specific drugs, how many prescriptions the physician writes for targeted and competing drugs, and how a physician’s prescribing habits change over time. The purpose of this statistical manipulation is to recognize doctors that are most receptive to marketing efforts.

Doctors are vulnerable to corporate influence because they are overworked, frustrated by information and paperwork and feel undervalued. Cheerful and charming, bearing food and gifts, provide doctors some leisure time and ease their burdens. But in the interests of patients, physicians must reject the false friendship provided by reps.