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Medical device and pharmaceutical companies + physicians and researchers = conflict of interest?

Posted Apr 10 2009 11:37pm

Cleveland Clinic.
American College of Cardiology.
Henry Ford Health System

The number of hospitals, medical schools and associations requiring physicians and researchers to disclose potential conflicts of interest with medical device and pharmaceutical companies increases daily. Two cases in point this week:

An article in The Wall Street Journal highlights the ban enacted by Johns Hopkins, not only prohibits free drug samples and gifts, but also states that its doctors cannot “participate in consulting gigs in which they’re essentially paid for not doing anything.”

That same day, Bloomberg ran an article on Columbia University’s similar new policy requiring its faculty to report any conflicts of interest when publishing research.

The costs of these gifts and payments fall under the marketing budget. “Drug companies spend about $4.2 billion annually for the many ‘Direct-To-Consumer’ advertisements for new drugs that we see. But they spend even more — $7.2 billion a year — on marketing directly to physicians through one-on-one sales visits,” states an op-ed piece in the Hartford Courant. All that for the hopeful promise of increased prescriptions—regardless of whether those drugs are neither more effective nor less expensive.

Hopkins decided to ban these complimentary drug samples altogether rather than go the route of allowing samples to be given to a central location from which they’re distributed, as The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is designing.

Perhaps we should do this on a nationwide scale. We keep talking about people who lack insurance and access to medical care. Added to the uninsured group are, quite obviously, those who simply can’t afford the drugs they need. Maybe we should just funnel them to a national distribution center. That would likely lessen industry influence over physicians and researchers.

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