What Women (Doctors) Want

By Malcolm Fleschner

If life were like a Norman Rockwell painting, all the doctors would be middle-aged white men with graying temples and a grandfatherly bedside manner. But this is the real world of the 21st century and today’s physicians come in a wide range of races, ages, ethnicities and, of course, they’re not all men. In fact, today approximately 25% of all practicing physicians in the United States are women, and the percentages are even higher in Canada and Great Britain.

Despite the influx of women into the medical profession, pharmaceutical companies have made little effort to appreciate and respond to the different ways women doctors interact with and relate to pharmaceutical sales reps. So says Dr. Lou Sawaya, president of the Canadian marketing research firm RETICULUM and author of the recently published Super Reps II: Selling to Women Physicians, who was interviewed recently for an article on the EyeforPharma Website (www.eyeforpharma.com).

One key difference Sawaya notes is that when compared to their male counterparts women physicians are more likely to be juggling career and family responsibilities. This leads many to practice part-time or keep shorter hours, further restricting the time they have available for meetings with pharmaceutical salespeople. Despite these constraints, Sawaya notes that according to a recent survey, 20% of women physicians say they nevertheless would like more attention from drug reps.

So what should pharmaceutical salespeople do differently when selling to women physicians? Sawaya recommends reps not use high-pressure sales tactics or invade the physician’s personal space. He also counsels that reps should avoid engaging in behavior or disseminating materials that might be perceived as sexist.

Sawaya notes that women physicians tend to be heavy users of drug samples and that they typically offer more free samples to their patients than male doctors. In fact, he adds, many women doctors look on drug reps as little more than sample delivery vehicles. “Women doctors readily admit the influence of samples on their prescribing decisions and are more inclined to punish or boycott companies that fail to provide them with samples,” Sawaya says.

Pharmaceutical companies need to be more proactive about soliciting opinions from women physicians, Sawaya suggests, as they are in the best position to provide information about female patients’ wants and needs. Frontline reps can disseminate findings from clinical trials involving female patients, Sawaya adds, which also should drive interest among women physicians.

Sawaya recognizes that until recently women doctors have had comparatively little influence over most healthcare issues, including prescribing practices. As more women earn medical degrees and begin to comprise a greater percentage of the nation’s physicians, however, pharmaceutical companies will need to adapt to stay ahead of this demographic shift.

“Women physicians are set to become a major force within the healthcare industry in just a few years,” Sawaya says. “Their behavior already is having an impact in the spheres of healthcare planning and resource allocation, physician workforce planning and medical school enrollment policies. Their growing numbers undoubtedly will affect the way pharmaceutical companies deploy their sales forces and allocate their promotion and marketing budgets.”