A Step in the Right Direction

December 31, 2008

No More Goodies for Doctors

Last year, besides giving away nearly $16 billion in free drug samples to doctors, pharmaceutical companies spent more than $6 billion on “detailing” – an industry term for the sales activities of drug representatives including office visits to doctors, meal-time presentations and branded pens and other handouts, according to IMS Health, a health care information company.

The industry code also permits drug makers to pay doctors as consultants “based on fair market value” – which critics say means that companies can continue to pay individual doctors tens of thousands of dollars or more a year.

“We have arrived at a point in the history of medicine in America where doctors have deep, deep financial ties with the drug makers and marketers,” said Allan Coukell, the director of policy for the Prescription Project, a nonprofit group in Boston working to promote evidence-based medicine. “Financial entanglements at all the levels have the potential to influence prescribing in a way that is not good.”

About 40 drug makers, including Eli Lilly & Company, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, have signed on to the code. Representatives of several pharmaceutical makers said their companies intended to comply with the guidelines, but they declined to discuss past marketing programs involving branded gifts.

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