Success can be a mixed blessing, as the pharmaceutical industry well knows. Drug companies have prospered by developing and marketing new medicines that improve patients’ lives. But the industry’s impressive profits also bring public scrutiny and criticism. Sometimes the criticism is warranted, sometimes it’s unwarranted.
One legitimate concern that public advocates have is that pharmaceutical manufacturers could influence doctors’ prescribing habits by giving them gifts, paying them honoraria, or funding trips for them. The Physician Payments Sunshine Act would provide transparency and protect doctors’ independence by requiring pharmaceutical and biologics manufacturers to report the payments they give to physicians. The act, which Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced last fall, is now being considered in Congress.
The fact that this bill is now being debated seems to have been enough to inspire industry to change its rules about marketing.
Last week, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) announced modifications to its Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals. The revised code prohibits the distribution of “noneducational” tchotchkes (e.g., pens, mugs, and the like) to doctors. Although these small gifts might seem silly, they surely keep the names of certain companies and drugs in doctor’s eyes and minds.
Even better, the revised code prohibits sales representatives from taking physicians out for meals at restaurants and includes stronger language against offering “entertainment or recreational benefits to healthcare professionals.” The code thus takes a stand against the manifestly objectionable wining and dining that consumer advocates rightly decry.
It’s encouraging to see industry respond to public concern even before restrictions are mandated by law. PhRMA’s new rules could be evidence that the industry takes transparency seriously. If companies abide by these standards, they will encourage physicians to exercise independent judgement, which is precisely what patients need.