Using Mobile Bar Code Technology to Improve Sample
The sampling process is repeated on a daily basis across the pharmaceutical industry with billions of dollars expended each year.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010
In the year 2000, US pharmaceutical companies spent 16 billion dollars supporting the distribution and marketing of prescription drug samples to physicians. A full 50% of those costs went directly to communicating the value of the products and another 26% went to the detailing, distribution, and management of the samples. Over the course of a typical month, the average pharmaceutical sales representative will visit 150 physicians, distribute thousands of packages of drug samples, obtain FDA required signatures on 150 sample distribution forms, receive scores of new sample cartons to their home-based office, and expend as much as 25% of their time tediously managing a paper-based process.
“I thought I was being hired to be a professional...yet night after night I sit at home filling out these stupid forms. There has to be an easier way!” said one of the many sales representatives that we interviewed.
In addition to the significant marketing and time investment associated with managing physical samples, pharmaceutical companies are also required to comply with a stringent set of FDA regulations that were established with the enactment of the Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA). Compliance with this legislation is a manual, error-prone, time-consuming process that adds inefficiency and frustration to the jobs of pharmaceutical sales representatives, their managers, and other personnel.
The PDMA was designed to minimize the threat to the public health posed by prescription drug diversion and counterfeiting. It requires that samples distributed by pharmaceutical representatives be signed for and tracked to create audit trails. This helps to ensure that the correct physician receives the correct samples. If a pharmaceutical company is found to be non-compliant, they could face significant penalties, fines, and possibly even prison terms.
The sampling process is repeated on a daily basis across the pharmaceutical industry with billions of dollars expended each year. At most companies a sales representative goes through a daily routine similar to this.
The pharmaceutical sales representative (rep) arrives at a physician’s office.
The rep manually fills out a pre-printed sample distribution form including physician information, sample product information, and the proper quantity of all samples to be distributed.
The representative conducts a 3-5 minute presentation with the doctor about the product he or she is promoting, encouraging the physician to write more scripts for the product.
The rep ends the detail by giving the physician the intended samples, and asks the physician to manually sign for the samples on the distribution form.
At the end of the day, the rep will review each distribution form to check for accuracy, and then manually type all of the data from every form into their laptop Sales Force Automation (SFA) system.
The rep then removes a copy of the triplicate form for his or her own records which must be kept for seven years, and mails a copy to a central processing location.
The data sent to the central processing location is then manually entered for a second time into a database by a team of data processors. Since this is a manual process, there is an increased chance for the data to be full of errors. Each discrepancy found must later be reconciled during an audit to meet PDMA standards. It can often take weeks before this information is matched to the sales representative’s inventory, and even longer for the marketing manager to gain access to it.
Finally, the representative will place a manual order, writing everything out on yet another pre-printed form, to replenish their own sample inventory.
Today’s cyber world is one of on-demand information and increased productivity. Instantaneous pieces of information can be obtained by just by typing www.something.com. Pharmaceuticals have invested millions of dollars in developing eBusiness strategies and web sites to disseminate data to physicians and consumers. Yet, for some unexplainable reason, there has been a great lag in adopting technology when it comes to managing samples.
The evolution of technology will play a critical role in the massive improvement of sample management. Pharmaceutical companies have a tremendous opportunity to integrate bar codes, mobile scanning devices, and the Internet to create a complete, operationally-efficient process.
This process will be able to collect critical marketing information and fully track the physical distribution of drug samples from the sales representative to the ultimate consumer. This process can replace current manual systems with automated processes allowing a rep to: transfer items from one location to another, perform inventory counts, dispense samples to physicians, replenish their sample supply, and reconcile their inventory discrepancies. This type of system will fulfill all regulatory requirements and provide both real time inventory tracking, as well as critical marketing information.
The system works by collecting inventory transactions at the field level through mobile bar code scanning technology built into a handheld computer using proprietary software. Each time a sample is distributed, the bar code on the sample is scanned, time-stamped, and logged into the sales representatives activity log. To eliminate the need to enter more information about the transaction, the sample’s source and destination information is previously stored and can easily be selected in the system. Later on, the rep can place the device into its docking cradle where it automatically synchronizes through a standard Internet connection to directly update a company’s online inventory system.
Now, let’s take a look at the prior sample process when we integrate it with mobile bar code scanning technology:
A pharmaceutical sales representative arrives at a physician’s office.
The rep scans the bar codes on the samples to be distributed using his/her Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).
The rep then conducts a 3-5 minute detail with the doctor about the product he or she is promoting, encouraging the physician to write more scripts for the product.
The rep ends the detail by giving the physician the intended samples, and asks the physician to sign for the samples on their PDA, where the physician has been previously validated with their biometric signature.
At the end of the day, the rep simply syncs their PDA with a PC. This automatically updates all of the day’s information into the company’s online inventory system, which only takes a matter of seconds. Not only is the data transfer fast, it eliminates the multiple data entry errors prevalent in the current systems.
Finally, the system automatically generates a replenishment order assuring the representative always has the correct inventory levels.
Mobile bar code scanning technology can revolutionize the way pharmaceutical companies market themselves. The implications of this new technology transcend the organization by crossing many different divisions including sales, marketing, operations, manufacturing, and finance.
A pharmaceutical company implementing this new technology can expect to reduce sample administration time by at least 70%, as well as increase sales representative’s productivity. With an average sales force of 2,500 representatives, that equates to a tremendous cost savings. This type of automation can offer a ten to one return on investment through additional savings in administrative time, paper costs, and inventory management efficiencies.
About the Author
Marty W. Michaels is President and CEO of LScan Technologies (www.lscan.com). LScan provides value driven end-to-end solutions that enable customers to leverage the full potential of mobile bar code scanning technology. Lscan specialize in providing mobile and wireless applications to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, which promote improved productivity, efficiency, and convenience.
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