Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pharmaceutical Companies & Doctors

This week, the Australian Competition Tribunal, at the request of the ACCC, has determined the validity of new reporting rules for drug companies. They will have to declare their gifts to doctors every 6 months, and post them on the Internet. The information to be made publicly available includes: venues, the number and types of professionals invited, and the total cost of food, travel, accommodation and entertainment provided.

They are not required to identify individual doctors (or other health professionals), nor where they come from or work. Some see these as shortcomings in the new rules. Such information would certainly allow others to determine where and who the drug companies are targeting; and possibly examine any change in prescriptions following the "education" of doctors.

Let no-one be fooled. These are marketing projects, designed not to educate doctors, but to market the companies' products to doctors, and to increase pressure on the Federal Government to include 'new' drugs on the PBS scheme. Such inclusion would effectively guarantee widespread prescriptions, and increase drug company profit$.

There are other issues to be aware of:
  • if we were to limit the marketing/'education seminars' by drug companies, how do doctors gain information about new drugs? There are not many scientifically reputable, peer-reviewed publications (they are independent of drug company interference in what they publish, and how articles are written). The Australian Medical Journal, the British Medical Journal are two, but how many doctors subscribe, and have the time to read thoroughly? Perhaps summaries could be provided through the AMA at reduced subscription, or through the PBS itself to doctors.
  • the ethics of doctors accepting the drug company offers. It is almost unthinkable that doctors do not know they are being manipulated and (ab)used by drug companies. Yet they still accept the "gifts".
  • there are suggestions in the SMH 30-June-07 about fraudulent or "doctored" research (pun intended!)
  • The primary goal of drug companies "sponsored & doctored" research is to gain PBS approval and sell, sell, sell, at almost any cost. It was only last year they had to be almost forced to remove Celebrex and Vioxx from the market, after denying and obfuscating about the deaths they caused. This year, the same levels of delay and obfuscation were used when side-effects of the sleeping tablet Stilnox became known.
The bottom line in all this is that drug companies are out to increase their bottom line! We shouldn't have to tolerate them being snake-oil salesmen, though.

The Analyst