Friday, November 13, 2009

LUNCH-N-LEARNS

Doctors can be busy people (who isn't, right?). They have to deal with stinky, whiny patients in a timely manner all day long with few breaks and little thanks. So, as a rep, it's really tough to get a minute to talk with them.

Harangue Hiatus: When, as patient or patient supporter, you're sitting in a doc's waiting room, you've been there for 30 minutes, and a rather well-dressed person carrying a big bag and sporting a name tag walks right up front and is immediately invited back, don't get your knickers in a knot. That badge-wearing individual is not making it such that you're going to have to wait longer for your turn to listen to doctor's orders that you're going to ignore.

No, in fact, while you're sitting in the waiting room, rump nestled on a soft seat and magazine in your paws, the rep is in the back, balancing in high heels at the designated spot, for 25 minutes, doing her best not to get in the way of the bustle that is The Back Office. And when the physician finally notices her, he gives no more than 30 seconds (if she's lucky), during which he's distracted by a waiting patient chart. She's not disgruntled at the mere 30 seconds after her 25-minute wait; she understands the time constraints under which the doc works. It's the nature of the beast.

If you're still in the waiting room when she emerges, don't glare at her like she delayed your day. Instead, why don't you issue her a sorrowful look of understanding in response to the smile she automatically sends you, a smile prompted by the great empathy she has for patients who have to wait a long time? (End Harangue)
For the sake of understanding and context, let's put you in the black leather pumps of a female drug rep; let's say it's me . . .

So, as a pharmaceutical sales representative, in order to execute your job duties--which is talking to doctors about the products you have responsibility for, you very often have to steal the only free time they get in their day: lunchtime.

In order to feel good about taking them away from the small solitude they have in the 9 hours they spend putting up with patients and rolling their eyes at managed care, you buy them lunch. If you have to monopolize their only me-time at least you're doing it while they get to enjoy a nice meal you had delivered.

Because doctors appreciate their staff and drug reps need the staff to like them in order to execute the job duties I mentioned of earlier, when you schedule a lunch discussion with the doctor, you need to buy food for the whole office. It's polite anyhow. You know: don't bring any if you don't have enough to share with the entire class.

Generally, the part of the lunch when you're in the breakroom with the food and waiting for the doctor is the time when you get to chitchat with the staff. And that's, more often than not, the relaxing part. After you review relevant product information with them and answer any questions they have, you all sit around and just chat--like people do. You enjoy the staff; for, in a sense, they become your coworkers. You see them more than you see your company counterparts.

Frequently, the staff is concerned whether or not you ate lunch too. You tell them that you don't eat at your in-office lunches. They ask why. You reply that it is your job to talk at these lunch events and you simply wouldn't be able to live with yourself if you spent the hour talking, got back into your car afterward, and discovered that you had lettuce in your teeth and no one told you. So to avoid that, you just stop for food after leaving the lunch. They laugh and swear on their firstborn children that if you had food in your teeth they'd tell you. You tell them that you don't believe them. It's all very good-natured.

Finally, after you've been there shooting the bull for 45 minutes, the doc is able to slip in to snatch up some lunch. He's very grateful and thanks you for feeding his staff. Very gracious of him, seeing as the reason you brought the lunch was to spend time with him. You should be thanking him. And you do.

He sits down and you get to spend ten minutes "talking product" (for that's the industry jargon you use). You give him the rundown on some new information and he asks you corresponding questions. It's amicable and productive. And that's because it was over lunch. A discussion like that never could have taken place while the doctor is in-between patient rooms.

That's generally how it works out.

Such was not the case at a recent lunch I had.

This office is a large one and an important one to me. It has quite a few providers and I am there often. They all know me. It's like I'm Norm in Cheers. However, when I'm there on my regular calls, their office policies regarding reps are prohibitive to having any kind of productive chat with the docs.

So a lunch was in order.

I ordered a winner of a meal. A lunch I often order for my offices. Whole Foods has gourmet box lunches with many good things tucked inside. Whenever I have those things brought to an office all that consume rave. Really rave, telling me again and again and again that they had no idea Whole Foods was, like, good food. They thought it was just weird health stuff. Surprise, I say.

For this lunch I had to order 50 boxed lunches. Like I said, it's a big office. So I had the lunches delivered at 11:30; lunch was to start at 11:45 and I didn't want the food to be late. I showed up at 11:40 and there were all of five boxed lunches sitting on the kitchen counter.

Just five. Not 50. Five.

I started to freak out. Where were my lunches? Were the delivery people bringing up more? Where the heck was all the food I paid a truckload of money for?

After calling Whole Foods catering and making a complete idiot of myself, fretting into the phone like a little girl, I learned that all the lunches had been delivered. Every last one of the 50. The food had come and the staff had swooped in and decimated it blitzkrieg-style. Never mind that they snatched all the food and disappeared without signing in--for I had yet to arrive with the sign-in sheet--but they had left no food for the doctors. The doctors. The people I had spent many hundreds of dollars to be able to see were going to starve.

It was terribly embarrassing. The doctors gradually trickled in and there I was, no food at all, apologizing that the staff had taken everything.

I had ordered more than the amount I was told to--just in case--and still, all of it was gone before the practitioners had a chance to eat.

I was able to have a very fruitful discussion with one doctor, but all the while my heart was racing because things had gone wrong, and I wasn't at fault. I wasn't at fault but I felt that I should have been able to prevent it. Of course I was wrong--the staff should have thought of their providers and didn't. (Okay, that's not true, one gal set aside a lunch for her doctor and went elsewhere to get her own lunch; she gets a gold star.)

I do three or four lunches a week, and, for the most part, they are successful, I get to spend time reviewing a clinical study or two with the doctors I needed to contact, and I get to enjoy some time jawing with the staff while all enjoy a tasty and healthy meal. This debacle was an anomaly.

And it had to happen in a very, very important office.

I'm still recovering.

13 comments:

Lars said...

Were they raised by wild animals? Even then I am pretty sure that the pack leader, in this case the doctor, would be getting to eat first. I am in shock. I don't know what to say

Off topic, I could never do your job due to the inability to walk in heels. I swear it is a talent or art of some sort that I can't grasp.

rookie cookie said...

WOW. I hate that. How impolite. Like Lars said, who raised these people?

Megan can walk in heels all day because she was blessed with a solid pair of ankles that can support heel-walking.

Oh, and my word verification was "asess".

Sparks said...

Aw, the heels aren't a necessity for all. My counterpart never wears heels and she looks as professional as ever. She's also 5'8". I am 5'2". The six inches make a difference in that I feel so tiny when I'm not boosted by a pair of spikes. And when I feel so tiny, I don't feel confident enough to execute my job as it oughta be. The heels are just a necessity for me.

My25Cents said...

(First time commenting)

Un.Freaking.Believable! My blood pressure went through the roof while reading this -- those people need a serious smack-down. For the love of all that is good and good-tasting, have they no couth?

It would have thrown me off too.

Sparks said...

Thanks for your empathy 25Cents. I didn't want to post this and everyone think I was whacko for being concerned about the situation.

Lars said...

Whacko? Hardly at all. I sat here for a good moment or so stunned and unsure of how to respond to such behavior. If you do a fancy schmancy spread like that again in that office what is the strategic op for protecting the goods? This just seems to make what was once aiding in easing your job a somewhat hassle with the necessary evil of needing to stand guard over the grub. Ah, I love when people ruin the fun for all.

Good to know on the heels. I'll blame my ankles that love to roll for my inability in the heel-walking dept. Your feet must ache at the end of the day in spikes that high for that long....

Jessica said...

Reading this made me anxious. I hate that feeling of something going wrong and it wasn't your fault, but you feel like it was your fault.

And the heels? Makes me feel more professional to wear them. Something about heels makes and outfit look better, despite the fact that they are tiny torture chambers.

Winder said...

I would have freaked out! I do know that the lunches from your industry are appreciated. I have a brother-in-law who is a doctor, a sister who is a NP, and a brother and sister-in-law who are PA's. The brother-in-law moved is practice to a small town in Southern Utah and rarely gets lunch from drug reps let alone samples. He says he misses it. Maybe that will help you feel better about the misshap. Who knows?

Ryan said...

totally feeling for you. been/done there/that.

a fun variant: when you go out of your way to ensure veggie options are ordered for the less carnivorous of the attendees and either the food isn't delivered to spec or too many others unexpectedly go for the "healthy" option. either way the sufficiently blood quenched are left without a viable intake alternative, and you look like an insensitive git. love when that happens.

rabidrunner said...

I call this phenomenon the "Free Lunch Factor." When lunch is free all intents of consideration go out the window. Software schmucks are notorious for succumbing to the Free Lunch Factor. Someone announces a free meal and there's a mass exodus to the break room complete with shoulder jabs and elbow throws. As they shovel the Free Food onto their plates, they know that that they must pile on as much as possible RIGHT NOW. There won't be more for them later due to the room full of Free Lunch Grubbers.

Oh and you should see them when Free T-shirts are handed out! People are trampled. Teeth are knocked right out of their sockets. Bones are broken. And what's even funnier is to watch 'em at the trade shows. Software companies sometimes hire models to "man" their booths. You know, to attract more people. Most of the time the models are handing out spiffs like mouse pads, t-shirts, stress balls, etc. What's funny, is the model is not needed! They're more attracted by the free goo than the 10ft blond whose skimpy dress shows off her biguns.

See Free Lunch Factor. I did that at your house, by the way. Didn't you notice stuff your fridge was empty when I left?

Did you notice how many times I typed funny. Too many. I'm far to lazy and tired to fix it.

Ryan said...

totally concur, rabid, with the scars to prove it. and the t-shirts. and the chotchkies. early days i was a kid in a candy store but can't be bothered these days without a strong utilitarian appeal (golf balls, pen drive) now that our one-and-only is long past the days of shaking me down at the door upon return, no longer impressed by the likes of flashing pens and flying monkeys.

what's in your swag sack, megan? are pens, paper, and magnets still all the rage?

Sparks said...

Done that too, Ryan. Not being a meat-eater myself, I always provide a couple veg options. And sure enough, they are the last ones left (over time I've come to order less and less, but can't make myself order none at all) and have been a subject of complaint when those with the heaviest blood lust are the last to eat.

As for swag: none. The pharmaceutical industry is self-goverend by the PhRMA Code, a body of regulations put in place to govern marketing practices. No more pens. No more magnets. No notepads. No table paper. No paper clips. No nothing. I can provide samples. I can provide unbranded patient education materials. And that's it. Abiding by the PhRMA Code is optional, but all the big companies do it.

The no-more-tchotchkes came to be back in January along with no long being able to take practitioners out to dinner without a paid speaker present and employed.

See? So many misconceptions surrounding this industry. I believe I just dispelled a few today.

Ryan said...

oops - meant (but failed) to convey the unenviable situation of ensuring to arrange for veg options (not my cup o' herbal tea but absolutely want to be culinarily inclusive) only to have circumstances beyond control leave my equally (and oft times more) important vegophile attendees deciding between hunger and compromising their health/moral/religious code. wanna get away?

on the flip side, when all goes as planned, sincere thanks from the pleasantly surprised sans meat crowd makes it all worth while.

thanks for the PhRMA Code update, megan, and arrivederci pharmaceutical tchotchkes (i'll yield to your spelling with 110k google hits over my 97k). gotta believe that those previously reliant on doctor visits to replenish their stationary cabinet are now candidates for another sector's mindshare. wanna bump up the twilight demographic, summit entertainment? start pumping out new moon notepads for those whose lives are just beginning to wane in that direction.