Merck, Sharpe & Dohme (MSD), the British subsidiary of Merck & Co, seems to have gotten into two separate tubs of hot water over its marketing practices in the last week.
The Times (UK) reported that MSD was suspended from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) for "serious breaches" of its code of conduct. "Merck had offered to provide nurse advisers to help GPs to screen and monitor diabetic patients with high blood pressure. But the company made it clear that only surgeries that regularly used one of its blood pressure drugs, Cozaar, would benefit from the programme." Information about the practice came from "an internal e-mail from a senior manager at MSD and a slide presentation [which] linked the 'Cozaar nurse audit programme' with the drug and referred to sales and prescribing quotas that had to be fulfilled before a surgery could be offered the service...."
Meanwhile, the British Medical Journal reported in its news section that MSD was also "publicly admonished" by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority for entertaining "doctors and their spouses at a meeting with no clear educational content in an unsuitable venue." The venue was a Chinese restaurant, and the company was unable to come up with any documentation of the educational content of the meeting.
On one hand, it's nice to see a little bit of self-policing going on here. On the other hand, this is probably just the tip of the iceberg of these sorts of pharmaceutical marketing practices that subvert the physician's role as agent in service of the patient's best interests. And we should be thinking about how pharmaceutical companie seem to have so much money on hand to engage in such practices while other parts of the health care system cry poverty
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