Curbing The Almighty Influence Of The Pen, Pad & Mug

In what might be considered a pre-emptive attempt to monitor itself, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Board of Directors adopted measures to enhance the PhRMA Code that governs interactions with healthcare professionals and their staff. The voluntary code, set to go into effect January 2009, states that interactions between company representatives and health care professionals “should be focused on informing thehealthcare professionals about products, providing scientific and educational information, and supporting medical research and education.”
Silly me, I thought they already were.
While the revised code mentions limits on the speaking (and consulting) fees a doctor can receive,it neglects to cite a dollar figure. An oversight… surely. After all the code really needed to crack down on abuses, and has made changes including…

  • no more pens, mugs and other “reminder” items that have the logo of a product or company can be given to healthcare providers and their staff.
  • no more restaurant meals can be provided by sales reps, but they can bring insandwhiches to accompany information presentations.
  • new provisions that require companies to make sure reps for their products are sufficiently trained about applicable laws, regulations and industry codes of practice

That first one seems a bit out of place, and brought the quick response of the Promotional Products Association Intl who applaud the effort to improve interactions with healthcareproviders and their staff. No one disputes the idea that the pharmaceutical industry needs to make changes in the areas of lavish trips and dinners, excessive honorariums and expensive gifts, but putting pens and other office essentials or medically relevant logoed items in the same category seems a little… absurd.
Pens… everybody loves pens, and they disappear in the blink of an eye, so you can never have too many. And a few handy little note pads are an office essential that anyone can use… you grab one and go. Even the environmentally aware mug has been tagged for elimination and will be among the “non educational” items no longer allowed by the voluntary code. And don’t think to package something educational inside a mug or with a pen… that’s forbidden too.
You should know that existing federal law is already quite clear. Company representatives cannot give doctors and other healthcare providers anything of value in exchange for writing prescriptions for that firm’s drugs. Between the Food and Drug Administration, the Justice Department and your state Attorney General, things are being fairly well monitored.
At the heart of the issue lies a central question… can our doctors be trusted to be professional, to be able to evaluate advertising and make decisions based on a patients’ best interests… in short, to do the right thing?
If you’re not sure, you need to find yourself a new doctor… pronto.
For the rest of us who are pretty confident of our answer, it’s reassuring to consider the recent article appearing in BusinessWeek where Greg Kelly, editor of Physicians’ Financial News, is quoted as saying, “History shows that the vast majority of doctors always put the interests of their patients (and by extension their professional reputations) before any gift they get from drug companies. And national polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans (in the 90 percent range) trust doctors to give them unbiased advice.”
There you go.