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Foot soldiers or salesmen? Medical reps seek clarity

P.T. Jyothi Datta

The solution to the problem goes beyond just fixing the legal position of medical representatives, points out Dr R. B. Smarta, Managing Director of Interlink, a consultancy outfit to pharma companies.

Mumbai , Jan. 30

THEY are the foot soldiers of pharmaceutical companies. But with changing work environments not quite altering their job profile, medical representatives are seeking greater clarity from the existing laws on their roles in companies.

Medical representatives are covered under the Sales Promotion Employees Act, 1976 (SPEA) and are "indirectly" covered by the Industrial Disputes (ID) Act, 1947 as well, says Mr K. B. Kadam, Secretary with the Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives Association of India (FMRAI).

"We want to be brought under the direct coverage of the ID Act so that there is no scope for interpretation or confusion," he points out. The problem arises when there is a labour-related dispute and this falls outside the purview of SPEA, which refers to service rules and conditions. Further interpretations of the law confuse the position of a medical representative, and though they do come under the purview of the ID Act, it is construed otherwise, he explains.

FMRAI is scheduled to meet top officials of the Union Labour Ministry early next month on this issue. Since it concerns drug companies, officials of the apex Chemical and Fertilisers Ministry and representatives of pharma associations are also expected to participate.

There are over two lakh medical representatives in the country. But the new crop are given fancy designations, though their job profiles remain largely unchanged, Mr Kadam observes.

The solution to the problem goes beyond just fixing the legal position of medical representatives, points out Dr R. B. Smarta, Managing Director of Interlink, a consultancy outfit to pharma companies.

"In the past, medical representatives were connected to the knowledge area. But the deterioration started in the 1980s when their roles were perceived as no more than salesmen. The transformation is illustrated in that — earlier it was seen how many prescriptions were got. Now, it is looked at how many boxes have been sold," says Dr Smarta, who was a medical representative way back in 1967.

It is in the interest of both the drug-maker and the medical representatives to work with mutual trust and respect. "In the UK, there are qualifying exams for medical representatives. It is important to bring the knowledge aspect back into the profession, so that the first line of intervention that a drug company has with a doctor is a qualitative one," he says. From there, the increased salaries and productivity will happen, he adds.

The medical representatives' community is the backbone of any drug company, never mind what designations they go by. At the end of the day, the community has to command respect as knowledge workers building sales for the company, he observes. It should become a coveted job like in the earlier days, Dr Smarta reminisces, when the medical representative was the most eligible bachelor in town!

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