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Towards Better Communication
by Albert Botelho

Every visit to the Doctor's invariably means running into a familiar person: The Medical Representative. I really sympathise with this species for their thankless job. The MR seeks an appointment with the receptionist. He's curtly told to return later when the Doctor's rush hour is over. Or he is tolerated, disappears into the clinic and before you know it, is banished in a matter of minutes.

I have had the misfortune of seeing an aggrieved MR go through the motions while I was being attended by a Doctor with a flourishing practice. The MR tried to warm up to the Doctor, exchanged pleasantries, and promptly went on to bore the Doctor with a sales pitch about a newly introduced drug. This was done with the help of a 'visual aid' which was as uninspiring as the MR's body language.

Forget the patient, let's pause for a moment and see what the Doctor goes through on an average day. Going by the serpentine queue of many an efficient Doctor, the sheer volume and degree of ailments, maladies and what have you itself must be reason enough for the Doctor to resort to laughter therapy to de-stress. As if this were not enough, MRs visit him between appointments and make presentations that sound as ominous in imagery and content as the diagnosis of a patient.

Just as I wish to bartend someday, I want to cheer up a doctor in the role of an MR in my lifetime. I wasn't surprised by the body language of the MR on my last visit to the doctor. The flip chart was so listless, I bet even Alyque Padamsee wouldn't make the Doctor sit up and notice the product. What's it about these visual aids that once a Doctor's seen one, he gets the feeling he's seen them all! I mean even if the drug is a wonder, why does it come across as no different in its impact?

I guess the crux of the problem lies in communication. If you have a visual aid which seeks a dialogue with the Doctor, the MRs will not just breathe easier, they may not have to sell the product at all. I believe the visual aid should do in words and pictures what an MR labours to convey. Agreed, there's no mantra to make a functional visual aid, but there are some do's and don'ts that may just make an average flip chart into one that makes interesting reading or listening.

Some definite musts:

Keep It Simple and Short. An MR should browse through a flip chart and keep the Doctor involved right through the duration of his pitch. Say no more than what the Doctor needs to know.

ii) Clear your mind before clearing your throat
If a flip chart is sequenced to make the MR go round and round in circles, the Doctor is well within his rights to throw a tantrum. Set an objective for your communication. Then go about achieving it. Build up a strong argument for your product.

iii) Make it like an adhesive tape
Your actions words which best describe the product should stick to the Doctor's mind when it's time to prescribe medicine. Take pains in giving your flip chart a personality that epitomises the product. The look should be friendly, not forbidding.

iv) Humour the Doctor
If your visual aids have an interesting story to tell, I bet the Doctor will give you out-of-turn appointments. The insides of the anatomy don't really make pleasant viewing. Use analogy to articulate your thoughts. Imagery can make or mar your presentation.

Some definite don'ts:

i) Don't blind the Doctor
Use your discretion when it comes to colour. Add life to your presentation with your choice of colour. Colours should never scream, they should lend a touch of pleasantness to your visual aid.

ii) Don't bore the Doctor
Can you think beyond a standard, rectangular format of flip charts? Chances are the Doctor has seen umpteen visual aids with the same layout and use of colour. How about exploring interactive visual aids? There's a lesson to be learnt in the success of the interactive medium.

iii) Don't traumatise the Doctor
Has a Doctor ever so much as smirked during a visit by the MR? Not surprising, as these presentations read like tender notices, written as they are in a clinical manner. You don't have to be a gifted writer to write simply. Just keep in mind whom you are talking to, and the language will follow suit.

Let me admit it, I may never really swap roles with an MR in my lifetime. But I hope I've made a humble contribution to cheer up the aggrieved doctors, and more importantly, put a spring in the step of the MRs.

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