Processing Magazine

Medical experts want crackdown on drugmaker money

April 29, 2009
Millions of dollars in gifts, travel and consulting fees from the pharmaceutical industry should be eliminated to stop companies from influencing how doctors practice medicine, a report by the government''s top medical advisers says. The recommendations from the Institute of Medicine call on medical professionals -- from university professors to family doctors -- to shun financial arrangements with companies, according to the Associated Press. The report calls on medical schools, hospitals and physician groups to: publicly report funding they receive from companies; not accept free meals, gifts or other items from companies; and prohibit doctors who have a financial conflicts of interest from testing new therapies on people. As lawmakers are bolstering their efforts to require companies to publicly report the money they spend courting physicians, the report could give them more leverage in their push to reveal the relationship between industry and physicians, which some say drive up the cost of medicine. The IOM advises the federal government on health care matters. While its recommendations are not binding, many executives and physicians are likely to heed the advice to avoid scrutiny from lawmakers. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., are pushing a bill that would require companies to disclose all payments to physicians over $100. But the IOM report goes even further, calling for the disclosure of payments to patient groups and other nonprofits that are often funded by industry dollars. While making payments public will not immediately stop the flow of money, panelists say it''s an important first step. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group is trying to head off regulation by reining in marketing efforts. Earlier this year the group asked members to voluntarily stop handing out mugs, pens and other freebies in doctor''s offices, though modest lunches and textbooks are still allowed. Perhaps the most vigorously defended practice is company support for so-called continuing medical education conferences, where doctors learn about the latest treatments. Most state medical boards require physicians to attend a certain number of sessions each year to maintain their licenses. While the panel stopped short of calling for a ban on industry-funded education, it stated that "a new system of funding ... should be developed that is free of industry influence." Industry''s share of funding for medical education has swelled from 34 to 48 percent in the last 10 years, according to IOM. Opponents of the practice argue that physicians need to pay for their way more often.