The Medical Secret Service: Unknown Angels
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Hullo, Vishwa? Please consider this an emergency. One of my rural patients is here, she is on XXX brand of tablets, she has finished the dose, needs more immediately for another three months. She cannot get them. She has to return by an evening bus. Can you do something?” I was in a hurry, between patients.
“Yes, Sir, I will arrange within a few hours” Vishwa said, and indeed, within two hours, the nearest medical shop called, saying that the medicine was available for the patient at a discount.
That evening I called to thank Vishwa, only to be shocked.
“Sir, you were in a hurry today morning so I didn’t tell, I had a heart attack last night, and an angioplasty was done. I am ok now.” said the 30 year old to me.
Like the thousands of his community, the Medical Representatives, he is immensely contributing to the healthcare industry, unrecognized and unacknowledged. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“”What is your job? Just passing on bribes to the doctors? My cousin said to me, Sir, and I did not reply. You should not argue with the one who has poison in his heart. People look down upon us, but they will never understand what we do” said a 60 year old man who had spent life as a medical representative, now a national manager. “We have no choice of judgment, our job is to be the link between the doctor and the company, and to make sure our medicine is available” he said.
Millions of busy doctors, overloaded with their work, have no clue how many pharma companies exist, what medicines they make, what medicines are newly launched, what is the brand name or price etc. It is not practically possible to read the whole new drug launch book every month. This community of medical representatives alone is the link between the pharma companies and the doctors, updating us about various new drug launches in India, their availability etc. They also arrange for academic events so necessary for the doctors and medical students. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Some Doctors are very good and treat us respectfully” said Janvi, who has spent over 20 years in this profession, “but some expect favours from the companies, in the form of tours, dinners and other things. Sometimes, I have had an occasional trespassing of moral lines by some doctor, but that was rare. One needs to be able to take care of one’s dignity and self -respect. Especially Indian women face a lot of difficulty and gender bias when making a career, at all levels.” she said.
“The pressure for women in this industry is immense, and like any careerist woman, I faced a lot of presumptive hate too. If a woman, and especially good looking, is successful, our society already has made its judgment as to the reasons of her success. Most Indian men do not tolerate the idea of a woman succeeding ahead of them. Of course, one must clearly set priorities as to whether one wants to make a career or family, and if both, where the compromises will be, because both are full time jobs at least for any woman. Most doctors have treated me well though, and most doctors also want to do good for their patients”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
In my 20 years of career as a doctor, I have never come across a Medical Representative who turned down my request to help a patient: lacs of rupees worth of medicines I have asked them to arrange free for my patients, and they have arranged without a question. Thousands of poor patients receive free / discounted costly medicines, injectables, even stents etc., thanks to the generous efforts of this community and their companies. Thousands of medical camps are arranged all over India, where patients get free check ups from doctors and free medicines by pharmas, arranged by the Medical Representatives, but there is seldom any recognition of this service.
Unlike in most other professions, this community helps out its members without bringing in the competition, and in a recent event, when a regional manager suffered a critical head injury, MRs from different companies collected funds to pay for his bills.
Very few people notice how cruelly difficult the life of a medical representative is. They have to meet a certain number of doctors every day. They often stand for uncertain hours and have days longer than 18 hours, as some doctors finish their OPDs long after midnight. Family life is screwed. They are also responsible for making available the stocks of their brand medicine at different medical shops, and have to bargain with everyone: the stockist, distributor, hospitals, and sometimes the medical shops for making their brand available. The final sale figures are their assessment at every month-end. To achieve targets is essential in pharma industry as in any business, to survive. It is the Medical representatives community that faces the brunt on both sides: company pressure and the medical profession.
Unfortunately, our hate-bespectacled society cannot see anything beyond its suspicions: that all companies offer bribes and all doctors take them, that all doctors deliberately prescribe costlier medicine to earn cuts, and that the whole medical service is driven by money. This is somewhat like a suspicious husband who has a very beautiful and loyal wife, but cannot be happy with her because of his own paranoia. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
I know many doctors who do not ask for any personal favours from the pharma, do not accept gifts, and pass on all the benefits to their patients. But I do not know any mention of gratefulness for such doctors anywhere. Without the medical representatives playing their part well, the medical profession will be quite helpless.
This article is to salute the thousands of medical representatives who work hard day and night, live an extremely compromised life, and still contribute to the service by medical profession, making life easy for millions of patients.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
If a medical representative has helped you / your patient, please share this article.