How To Sell To An NP

By Malcolm Fleschner

Anyone in the pharmaceutical sales field knows that physicians today are more difficult to reach than ever before. Yet as with so many of life’s other trials, this challenge nevertheless creates new opportunities for thoughtful and creative drug reps. Just as the doors to many doctors’ offices are closing, other doors that lead to more accessible healthcare specialists with prescriptive privileges are opening. So who are these new players in the prescribing game? They’re the important, though often overlooked, nurse practitioners (NPs).

NPs are registered nurses who have completed advanced academic coursework with a great deal of clinical experience. They are capable of diagnosing and managing common acute and chronic illnesses and, depending on the state in which they work, also may prescribe appropriate medications. According to a March 2000 report published by the Health Resources Services Administration, by next year the number of NPs working in the United States will top 125,000, nearing the number of primary care physicians.

Despite NPs’ growing influence on primary care, the pharmaceutical industry remains woefully uninformed about what NPs do. To provide drug reps with information about how to serve this significant demographic, Pharmaceutical Representative Magazine recently spoke with Louise McDevitt, a certified adult, family and acute care NP working in Vermont and New Hampshire. She offered the following suggestions for pharmaceutical salespeople selling to NPs.

1. Show respect. It’s alright that many reps, particularly those new to the field, don’t realize how significant a role NPs play in providing patient care and clinical management. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to assume NPs’ time isn’t valuable, however. Some may see you on an informal basis, but others will require that you make an appointment.

2. Provide information. McDevitt says she wants drug reps to provide her with information that will help her understand the medications she prescribes. The ideal educational call will be a dialogue where she can ask questions about efficacy, safety, dosing and administration. Clinical study reprints and similar materials are always welcome.

3. Remember price is a concern. Cost matters to McDevitt’s patients, so it matters to her. Reps should be prepared to provide detailed information about reimbursements and the formulary status of their products in the health plans her office typically accepts.

4. Use visual aids. McDevitt says she’s always eager for new patient education tools such as body mass index charts, anatomical models and wall charts, and posters that explain disease processes and offer helpful advice for maintaining good health.

5. Develop a sample plan. McDevitt considers samples valuable and will tap into the sample closet at times for the right patient. But it’s also important to her that patients be able to afford prescriptions when the sample shelf is empty.

6. Skip the schtick. Sales reps should leave the slick, sales talk back at the home office, says McDevitt. In lieu of the schmoozy gladhanding, she much prefers a thoughtful educational exchange, whether one-on-one or as part of a lunch-and-learn or a dinner meeting where continuing education credits are offered.