Background: Physicians and pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSR) are in regular contact. The goal of the present study is systematically to assess the kind of contacts that take place and their quality with a survey of physicians in private practice. A further goal is to determine whether alternatives to current practices can be envisioned.
Methods: 100 physicians in each of three specialties (neurology/psychiatry, general medicine, and cardiology) were surveyed with a questionnaire containing 37 questions. 208 (69.3%) questionnaires were anonymously filled out and returned.
Results: 77% (n = 160) of all physicians were visited by PSR at least once a week, and 19% (n = 39) every day. Pharmaceutical samples, items of office stationery and free lunches were the most commonly received gifts. 49% (n = 102) stated that they only occasionally, rarely, or never receive adequate information from PSR, and 76% (n = 158) stated that PSR often or always wanted to influence their prescribing patterns. Only 6% (n = 13) considered themselves to be often or always influenced, while 21% (n = 44) believed this of their colleagues. The physicians generally did not believe that PSR visits and drug company-sponsored educational events delivered objective information, in contrast to medical texts and non-sponsored educational events. Nonetheless, 52% (n = 108) of the physicians would regret the cessation of PSR visits, because PSRs give practical prescribing information, offer support for continuing medical education, and provide pharmaceutical samples.
Conclusion: PSR visits and attempts to influence physicians' prescribing behavior are a part of everyday life in private medical practice, yet only a few physicians consider themselves to be susceptible to this kind of influence. A more critical attitude among physicians, and the creation of alternative educational events without drug company sponsoring, might lead to more independence and perhaps to more rational and less costly drug-prescribing practices.