Friday, May 16, 2008

Pharma Executive Threatens Pull-Out if Massachusetts Enacts Ban of Industry Gifts to Doctors

We often post about conflicts of interest affecting physicians, other health care professionals, and generally those who make decisions about health care. A rather bizarre kerfuffle has developed in Massachusetts over a proposed legislative ban of gifts by pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms to doctors.

As first reported in the Boston Herald (but full article no longer available online):

Taking aim at Senate President Therese Murray’s proposed ban on drug firms’ gifts to doctors, the head of GlaxoSmithKline’s U.S. operations is accusing Massachusetts of a 'strong anti-biopharmaceutical streak' and bemoaning attempts to 'attack and demonize' the industry.

Christopher A. Viehbacher, president of U.S. pharmaceuticals for the British-based Glaxo, sent harshly worded letters earlier this week to Murray, Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi, suggesting his firm might not invest as much in Massachusetts if 'political developments' work to 'devalue' its assets here.

Viehbacher said the gift-ban provision would make Massachusetts 'the most hostile state in the nation when it comes to biopharmaceutical sales.'

Similarly, an AP article (available via Forbes) noted:

To hear the industry tell it, the Free World would lose access to the Band-Aid if that were to happen.

'Strictly interpreted, the `anything-of-value' ban could bring clinical trials to a halt in Massachusetts, severely cut into necessary and mandated continuing educational studies undertaken by physicians and mean that fewer new medicines are readily available to patients in the state that is the global hub of medical innovation,' the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council wrote in a May 1 letter to state legislators.

BIO, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, wrote DiMasi on April 30 that 'the gift-ban provision threatens research and treatment for patients in the commonwealth.'


Sen. Mark Montigny, who authored the gift-ban provision, said the legislation would not harm medical research, and the Life Sciences Initiative itself is proof the state is not opposed to the biopharmaceutical industry. The bill also expressly allows for doctors to continue receiving free drug samples from the manufacturers.

It's clear that some people in pharma and biotechnology are greatly opposed to any interference with their ability to give physicians pens, coffee mugs, free meals, etc. They failed to explain how in the world such gifts promote clinical trials, or are necessary for continuing medical education. That at least one company executive would stoop to threatening to take the company's business elsewhere suggests how important some leaders in pharma and biotech believe these gifts are. In the absence of any good argument that the gifts promote patient care, education or research, presumably what some company leaders really value is the gifts' marketing effects. However, that is all the more reason for physicians to rethink why they have been accepting such gifts.


Anonymous said...

The Boston Herald article text is available in Healthy Skepticism's "library":

Anonymous said...

There are two sources of potential influence that have created the current morass in health care, those being the infuence of medical industry on physicians, but a more pervasive problem in my opinion is the influence on our policy makers. I would be more than willing as a physician to support such a ban if our politicians will join us in banning campaign contibutions and gifts from the the players that heavily affect the legislative process. Of course every time this sort of thing gets proposed by congress, up leap the 1st ammendment supporters claiming such a ban is a violation of free speech. Will this argument also apply with the free speech rights of phamaceutical companies to ply there products in doctors offices?

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Anonymous said...

Why the surprise? The cornerstone of marketing companies are the sales presentations and make no mistake pharma is a marketing machine. The feeling in sales is that if you can get a face to face, the customer will of course buy the product. If they do not, then the customer is stupid, or we need to send a different salesperson, or if all else fails: You are infringing on my rights!

Another basic sales tactic is shaping the discussion. Here we move from the positive, removing a potential conflict, to the negative in loss of jobs, or continuing education. How will a doctor ever find out about those new expensive drugs we are selling if not for our sponsored sales presentations disguised as CME? This also forces those responding into a never ending cycle of trying to answer an ever changing field of questions.

When faced with this doctors need to stay focused on the issue at hand, in this case the elimination of gifts. Job loss or the loss of pharma sponsored CME are all designed to shift the focus to potential situations.

Here is a statement every doctor should use often: "Sticking with the issue at hand."

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous said at 9:01am . . .

Gifts to a political campaign and gifts to a medical professional are two very different things. One could irretrievably harm my body while the other my taxes. Only one of these can be reversed.

The medical professional is supposed to practice good ethical healthcare based on his/her education and know enough that when a salesperson walks in the door he/she is pushing a bottom line quota and has no interest in a patient's best possible health remedy/treatment.

What a doctor does directly hurts or helps my body. That is a big difference!!!

I hope you are not a practicing medical professional. If you are I pity your patients because golf trips and tickets to the opera should NEVER EVER come before doing what is right and best for the patient.

Doctor's forget that WE patients are the customers not YOU doctors. We ultimately pay your salary. How many lawsuits do you need to wake up to that fact? YOU work for US!

How would you feel if your loved one received treatment from a "gift taker MD.?" No gifts of any kind should happen! This is not a wedding, this is a life we are talking about. Rise above your vanity!