Now is the time when the ambitious among us decide how we’re going to improve ourselves during the new year. The pharmaceutical industry is starting 2009 with an effort to reassure the public that its interactions with doctors are on the up and up.
On Jan. 1, 2009, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s (PhRMA) voluntary ban on noneducational gifts to physicians took effect. The ban is part of PhRMA’s revised Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals and is intended to counter “misperceptions that company interactions with healthcare professionals are not based on informing them about medical and scientific issues,” according to the Code.
In a Jan. 2, 2009 press release, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) commended PhRMA for its ban on gifts. Brian Hurley, AMSA’s president, called the ban “a good first step,” but noted that pharmaceutical companies must take profits into consideration and “cannot be expected to self-regulate.”
For this reason, AMSA supports passage of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act of 2008 (S.2029), which would require disclosure of payments to physicians by the pharmaceutical industry. Disclosure would be required for payments such as honoraria, continuing medical education, and research support. AMSA joins other groups such as the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), an independent agency that advises Congress about issues that affect the Medicare program, in supporting the legislation.
I agree with AMSA and MedPAC that Congress should help regulate the pharmaceutical industry’s interactions with doctors. Transparency and oversight could provide added reassurance that doctors make decisions based on scientific information rather than on marketing materials. Public health and the industry’s public image would both benefit.