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How should pharma engage with GPs on new drugs?

by Dr Tim Ringrose, CEO, M3 (EU)

What influences a GP's prescribing intentions and how should pharma respond to their changing needs? We asked member and GP Partner Dr Una Duffy for her opinion:

Dr Duffy explained that to succeed in an increasingly cost-conscious and highly regulated environment, pharma sales reps need to be talking about new products at Clinical Commissioning Group and NHS England level before they approach GPs, and GPs need to be assured that a drug has been assessed by NICE and fits into guidelines.

Her comment on NICE guidelines is backed up by research conducted recently among more than 1,800 doctors by M3 Global Research. The survey found that guidelines were the most pertinent influence on medical treatment decisions among UK doctors, with national guidelines (for example, those published by NICE) mentioned by 69% of UK doctors and local guidelines and availability on formulary by 56%.

Dr Duffy said: 'Following confirmation that a drug fits into NICE guidelines, I want pharma sales reps to provide me with information on how it fits into the next level – i.e. what has the local secondary care and CCG decided about this drug?

'For me, the evidence used in the company's promotional material and research is not really the issue and would not grab my attention. I would be more interested in finding out whether this new drug will change my current practice and also whether it is a 'me-too', second or third line to try when the established recommended treatments have already been tried.'

In the UK it's not about what the individual patient wants, as it is in some other nations, where patients regularly go to their GP demanding a particular drug, it's all about best practice and cost-effectiveness, Dr Duffy said. In light of this, another key piece of information that she would need is how a new drug compares to other options in terms of cost.

Peer approval is also very important, hence Dr Duffy would also be keen to find out whether other local consultants and colleagues already prescribing this drug and, if so, why?

She explained: 'In these target-driven and litigious times, where complaints and legal action from patients is on the rise, GPs are heavily influenced by what their peers are prescribing, including their colleagues in secondary care.

'For example, with interchangeable products, such as the New Oral Anti-Coagulants – we'll be looking at what a patient has been prescribed by a hospital when they come to us and we will be likely to continue with that drug.

'Organisations, such as the RCGP, Asthma UK and the British Heart Foundation are also very influential and are guiding GP opinion on best practice.'  

So how else can pharma reps better support GPs? Dr Duffy would like to see more patient support information in print and digital formats.

She said: 'That sort of information tends to be quite patchy. But it is really useful and may influence a doctor's decision to prescribe. For example, in dermatology, there are plenty of emollients on the market and some have really good information on how to use them, plus guidelines on how to look after a child's skin. This is really helpful when educating patients on how to use these products regularly.'

Dr Duffy would also like to see pharma getting more involved in medical education for doctors, particularly in terms of clinical guidelines and how to put them into practice. This could include online educational resources, sponsored online learning modules and conference highlights.

For more information on M3, the global provider of technology services in healthcare, and its European Division which includes,, and, please call Tim Ringrose on +44 (0)1235 828400, or email

11th December 2014



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