Last week, Gardiner Harris writing for the NY Times noted that the US Senate Special Committee on Aging had made public part of Forest Laboratories' Fiscal Year 2004 Marketing Plan for the drug Lexapro (escitalopram oxalate), an anti-depressant. The document is available here.
Review of this plan revealed the marketing department's various activities, including activities that others might have believed were educational, scientific, or had some other high minded purpose.
Continuing Medical Education
Overall, one "promotional objective" was to "Maintain SRI category leadership in total number of medical education events (including CME symposia, speaker promotion, teleconferences, and peer selling programs)"
One "critical issue" was to "increase Med Ed efforts: more sponsorships of CME, increased level of speaker programs, maintain level of teleconferences and peer selling."
Under "Marketing Tactics" was a long section on "Continuing Medical Education." It covered various venues for CME such as internet/electronic CME, "sponsoring symposia at major meetings," "regional CME symposia" which would "serve a number of medical specialties," "sponsorhips of scientific sessions," etc
Production of Scholarly Articles
The "Publications" section of "Marketing Tactics" noted "publications will be geared toward psychiatrists, PCPs, .... Articles will appear in several formats, including original reports, review articles, and journal supplements."
Thought Leaders and Consultants
Under the "Continuing Medical Education" section of "Marketing Tactics," and then in the "Advisor Relations" section, there were numerous references to what "thought leaders" would do, including
- "present new data" at "symposia at major meetings"
- act "as advisors to Lexapro in order to obtain critical feedback and recommendations on educational and promotional strategies and tactics."
- sit on the "Lexapro Exectuive Advisory Board" to "keep our advisors apprised of the commercial development ... of escitalpram."
- sit on the "Primary Care Advisory Board" to "obtain critical feedback and recommendations on educational and promotional strategies and tactics...."
Role of Medical Centers
Under the CME section of "Marketing Tactics," we see that "academic health centers" would help develop "regional CME symposia."
Under the "Sponsorship" section are plans to fund the "Professional Relations Group in their mission of establishing mutually beneficial long-term relationships with appropriate professionals and associations." Specific plans included funding the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory
The "Sponsorship section" also noted that these relationships "will also provide the basis for advocacy development and issues management, and will establish an appropriate environment for commercial and policy activities."
Under the CME section of "Marketing Tactics, we see that "medical associations and professional societies" would help develop "regional CME symposia" Also in this section is the note that "smaller, more prestigious societis do not accept industry-sponsored symposia." So instead, "sponsorship of a study groups or plenary sessions is recommended. Marketing will work with the professional relations group regarding potential opportunities."
Appendix VII, "Professional Associations of Priority" noted funding provided for guideline development by a "collaboration between APA, AAFP and ACP" for "chronic depression in primary care practice;" by AAGP for guidelines for late-life depression; multiple guidelines developed by AMDA;
The appendix also noted that Forest supports ACNP "annual programming, and is a founding sponsor of it's newly created International College of Geriatric Pscyhopharmacology (ICGP)," is a "Corporate President's Circle Sponsor of AAFP," became a "corporate sponsor of ACP in FY03," became "a Corporate Sponsor of AMDA for the last few years,"
Also, it noted that Forest has "expanded its involvement" with APA for "lobbying of State Health Departments...."
Disease Advocacy Organizations
Also in Appendix VII, Forest was identified as a "Corporate Sponsor of NAMI," a "major Corporate Sponsor of NMHA," and a "major Corporate Sponsor of DBSA."
We have often heard from pharmaceutical, biotechnology, device and other health care corporations that they are only involved in education to disseminate accurate information for the good of society. We have often heard from physicians and academics who consult for such corporations that their advice is sought about clinical, scientific, and technical issues. We often hear from academic medical institutions, medical associations and disease advocacy groups that the money they get from such corporations does not influence the content of their educational and scientific work.
Yet here we see, in considerable detail, that in the case of one drug company's promotional efforts for one drug,
- The marketing plan from the marketing department paid for medical education as a "promotional objective," that is, to market, not to educate.
- Thought leaders and consultants were again paid by marketing to market, and sometimes to provide opinions about "promotional strategies" and "commercial development."
- Medical associations are funded by marketing "for commercial and policy activities."
This suggests that health care corporations develop financial relationships with physicians, academics, academic institutions, medical and professional associations, and disease advocacy groups to support marketing first.
This allows the corporations to advance marketing disguised as education, research, and other high-minded and apparently selfless activities by professionals, not-for-profit organizations, and dedicated inviduals. Such marketing, of course, is DECEPTIVE and DISHONEST. It also is in conflict with the professionals' ideals, and the missions of the medical and professional assocations and disease advocacy groups.
The physicians, other health care professionals, and not-for-profit organizational leaders involved may rationalize these activities as consistent with their mission and professionalism, but such rationalizations are at best self-delusion.
No one knows how representative the Lexapro marketing plans are of the marketing of other drugs, devices and health care services. The only way to find out would be to force many other corporations' marketing plans into public view. The Lexapro documents suggest that society would benefit if many more marketing plans were made public, but that such publication might generate a wave of revulsion about how deceptive marketing of health care goods and services has become, and the extent that health care professionals have betrayed their professional ideals, and academic medical institutions, professional and medical societies, and patient advocacy groups have betrayed their missions.
I submit that we will not truly reform health care without making the marketing of health care goods and services honest, getting health care professionals to give up their financial relationships with health care corporations to reclaim their professionalism, and getting academic medical institutions, professional and medical societies, and patient advocacy groups to give up their financial relationships with health care corporations to reclaim their missions.
See additional comments on how the marketing plan was meant to promote CME by Dr Daniel Carlat on the Carlat Psychiatry Blog.
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