Thursday, January 8, 2009

Will Physician Gifting Practices Guidelines Work?

Pens and prescription pads flashing branded pharmaceutical drug names and logos could become less visible in doctor's offices as a result of PhRMA's “Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals.” But will it make the practice of medicine any better?

Briefly the new code of interactions instructs pharmaceutical companies not to distribute clothes, office supplies, and other gifts bearing company logos or product brand names to physicians and clinics. In addition, it also asks these companies to refrain from paying for physicians' meals, even during medical education events.

Many feel that these may only have a superficial effect. Why because compliance with the guidelines is purely voluntary. In fact, the guidelines are not even supposed to be a confession that gifts to doctors from the pharma industry influence a doctor's prescription writing skills. So when there's no problem to begin with, what problem will the guidelines solve. Perhaps they will solve just the problem of a perception that free gifts influence prescriptions.

Many from the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, though have shown respect to the guidelines, they scoff at the notion that pens and mugs are meant to influence a medic's practice.

Why Freebies may not be a bane?

Consider free samples of drugs, many physicians look up to these freebies for treating poor and and underinsured patients. Further, the samples also enable both doctors and patients to assess their tolerance of a novel drug before they purchase it. Thus, saving them from undue expenditure.

Often medical models and charts gifted to doctors help them to educate patients better, does it then really matter whether they carry a logo and a brand name? Free pens, flash drives, staplers, calculators paperweights, etc, may simply serve to support doctor's practice. But that a “viagra pen” will influence a prescription for “strep throat” is pretty hard to believe.

Further, some even contend that the guidelines don't at all help to put a stop to give aways other than freebies meant to influence physicians. And some even see it as a clever realization by the industry that rather than spending on freebies, the money could be spent in ways to ensure a better return on investment for them.

Whether or not the freebies influence a doctor's prescription drug advice may not be crystal clear, but what is, is that each practicing doctor has a conscience of her own, and as long as that is intact, no amount of supposed influence should be a cause for worry.

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