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is your physician a paid spokesperson for the pharmaceutical industry?

Might Your Doctor Be A Paid Spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Industry?

“We believe that it is imperative that we continue to actively challenge our business model at every level to ensure we are responding to the needs of patients and meeting the wider expectations of society.  GSK today set out plans to evolve the way it sells and markets its products to healthcare professionals to further align the company’s activities with the interests of patients.  During 2014, the company will implement a new compensation system which will apply to all GSK sales employees who work directly with prescribing healthcare professionals.

The company also intends to begin a consultative process towards stopping direct payments to healthcare professionals for speaking engagements and for attendance at medical conferences.” Cherry picked from a December 2013 press release for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK Announces Changes to its Global Sales and Marketing Practices to Further Ensure Patient Interests Come First: GSK Today Set Out Plans to Evolve the Way it Sells and Markets its Products to Healthcare Professionals)

“Both articles, the one from 2014 and the present article claim to put patients first.  They can’t both be right.”  Yours truly

Does the length of the title of GSK’s 2014 PRESS RELEASE correlate with how serious they were about following through with “aligning the company’s activities with the interests of patients“?  It seems not so much. There was a period of time where drug manufacturer Glaxo-Smith-Kline (GSK) had lost so much public trust and credibility over THEIR SPECIAL LITTLE VERSION OF EVIDENCE-BASED MEDICINE (including being busted for out-and-out BRIBERY), they were willing to do whatever was needed to clean up their tarnished image. 

Taking a big step in an industry built on questionable ethics, GSK pledged to be the first pharmaceutical company stop paying doctors to prescribe their drugs.  However, after realizing that they couldn’t compete because (whisper whisper) the other companies never stopped paying doctors to prescribe their drugs, they recently reversed course.  STAT‘s Ed Silverman wrote in Wednesday’s article, One of the World’s Largest Drug Makers is Paying Docs Again — And Patients are the Worse Off……

“For years, drug makers tried to goose sales by enticing doctors to write prescriptions. In many instances, this involved juicy incentives, such as fees for speaking or consulting. There were also freebies: meals, event tickets, or paid travel to conferences at luxurious destinations.  This generosity rightfully prompted scrutiny over who really benefited — the patient or the doctor and drug company? The answer was never hard to figure out. And despite indignant protests from some doctors who argued they are not swayed by largesse, studies have shown otherwise.”

Silverman is correct about the studies.  Despite large numbers of doctors saying that FREE FOOD, paid vacations that loosely double as ‘continuing education,’ speaking fees, as well as CONSULTANT FEES for, well, just about anything, don’t really matter, the research shows exactly the opposite.  But as they say in Hollywood, the show must go on.  In an article titled Operating Responsibly: Engaging with Healthcare Professionals, GSK provides their justification for these measures…..

“As a healthcare company, we regularly work with healthcare professionals. From collaborating on clinical trials to providing high quality, balanced information about our medicines and vaccines, in all of our interactions we aim to be transparent about our work, operate with integrity, and always put the interests of patients first.  In 2013, we announced we would stop paying healthcare professionals to speak on our behalf about our products or disease areas and that we would rely more on our own clinical experts.

Five years on, GSK is the only company to have taken this approach and other companies continue to compensate healthcare professionals when sharing data and talking about clinical experience. The effect of this has been that our educational programs have not been as widely available, or seen as compelling to healthcare professionals, compared to other company programs.

We believe this has led to a reduced understanding of our products and is, ultimately, restricting patients’ access to truly innovative medicines and vaccines.  These changes are effective immediately, apply to GSK’s Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines businesses, and ViiV Healthcare, and are in full compliance with applicable regulations and laws.”

A quick review of my site shows that when it comes to transparency, GSK would prefer anything but (HERE) as they rejoin companies engaging in a legalized form of bribery similar to the legalized form of bribery that our government engages in called “LOBBYING“. 

Look; I get it.  We all need money to survive in the modern world.  But when pharma takes a ‘profit-at-any-cost’ approach, the cost is often counted in ruined lives (HERE).  And just as serious is the medical community’s inability to police themselves when it comes to giveaways and free stuff. 

As Silverman’s article title correctly stated, “patients are worse off“.  After all, as Randy Newman sang in 1988 (backed up by one of history’s all time guitar greats, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler), it really is money that matters.  In fact, it’s the only thing that matters as far as Big Pharma is concerned.


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