Pharmaceutical companies are among the richest and most powerful in the global economy. Every year, these companies spend millions of dollars on incentives and bonuses given directly to the medical profession in the hopes of garnering sales.
Recently, the largest pharmaceutical company in England, and one of the largest of its kind in the world, made a very interesting announcement. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) introduced a new policy that would end payment to doctors for prescribing their drugs and discontinue drug prescribing targets for their marketing staff by 2016. The company would also discontinue paying for medical professionals to attend conferences and other such promotions to try and improve their public image.
“Where GSK leads we must hope that other companies will follow,” said F. Godlee, editor of The British Medical Journal. “But there is a long way to go if we are truly to extricate medicine from commercial influence. Doctors and their societies have been too ready to compromise themselves.”
This change in company policy follows a bribery investigation by Chinese police who have accused GSK of spending approximately $494.0 million U.S. to improve drug sales by bribing medical professionals. In the U.S., GSK agreed to pay the U.S. government a record $3.0 billion U.S. settlement in 2012 for providing misleading information about its drug products. Currently, U.S. laws now make these companies more accountable by requiring them to publish all the names of all the doctors receiving payment for their services.
Now, of course, GSK claims that these new policies were developed to deliver a more transparent approach to company policy—I think differently. You also have to take into consideration how powerful and influential a company must be in order to spend this kind of money on sales and damage control without really flinching very much. It’s clearly astonishing!
Other large pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca have discontinued paying doctors for attending conferences. However, most of the other larger companies have apparently not followed suit.
According to Tim Reed, who heads up an organization critical of Big Pharma companies, said, “I think other companies will follow suit—but one of the biggest problems is that the industry persists in regulating itself. The only way to properly control promotion is strong and enforced regulation by the state.”
So the question really becomes: how do we expect these companies to properly regulate themselves and keep the best interests of the patients above their own?
From a professional perspective, I have no problems with these companies but it should be their company policy that the interests of patients always must be at the forefront, instead of company profit or the bottomline. Although the shareholders may not like this, ethical companies can make a sizable profit and still serve the common good.
“We recognise that we have an important role to play in providing doctors with information about our medicines, but this must be done clearly, transparently and without any perception of conflict of interest,”GSK’s chief executive, A. Witty, commented.
Well, time will tell. My concern is that these changes will not be implemented until 2016!
These changes are needed but many more are also required before these companies can remain credible.
“GlaxoSmithKline to Stop Paying Doctors to Promote Drugs,” Huffington Post web site, December 17, 2013;http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/17/glaxosmithkline-pay-doctors_n_4457286.html,last accessed Dec.17, 2013.