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Doctors Must Not Be Lapdogs To Drug Firms

Armen Hareyan's picture

Doctors must not be lapdogs to drug firms, argues a leading professor in this week's BMJ.

Her warning comes after she addressed a conference about the influence of the drug industry on continuing medical education.

Professor Adriane Fugh-Berman's talk covered the costs of drugs, the costs of promoting drugs to doctors, the salaries of drug representatives, and the funding of continuing medical education. She also covered psychological profiling and monitoring of physicians, including prescription tracking.

Following her talk, several companies withdrew or threatened to withdraw their support for future conferences.

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Pharmaceutical firms are not interested in presenting information important to prescribers unless it is also important to the drug industry, she writes. "Drug representatives are paid to be nice to us, as long as we cooperate, sustaining market share of targeted drugs, and limiting our continuing medical education lectures to messages that increase drug sales."

The drug industry is happy to play the generous and genial uncle until physicians want to discuss subjects that are off-limits, such as the benefits of diet or exercise, or the relationship between medicine and pharmaceutical companies, she adds. Any subject with the potential to reduce drug sales is an anathema.

"If we remain dependent on pharmaceutical companies for sponsoring continuing medical education, then these courses will remain under the control of the drug industry. This control is not contractual, but it is enforced through psychological manipulation."

She suggests that if corporate sponsorship of medical meetings is deemed indispensable, conference organisers could solicit sponsorship from other companies, such as manufacturers of cars, luggage and travel services. Alternatively, physicians could actually pay for their continuing education, as do lawyers, accountants, and many other business people.

"Medicine must shed its docility and the corporate leash," she says. "Let us not be a lapdog to the pharmaceutical industry. Rather than sitting contentedly in our master's lap, let us turn around and bite something tender. Freedom calls."