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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 11242

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.

 

Publication type: Journal Article

Spurling G, Mansfield P.
General practitioners and pharmaceutical sales representatives: quality improvement research.
Qual Saf Health Care 2007 Aug; 16:(4):266-70
http://qshc.bmj.com/content/16/4/266.abstract


Abstract:

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Interaction between pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSRs) and general practitioners (GPs) may have an adverse impact on GP prescribing and therefore may be ethically questionable. This study aimed to evaluate the interactions between PSRs and GPs in an Australian general practice, and develop and evaluate a policy to guide the interaction.

METHODS: Doctors’ prescribing, diaries, practice promotional material and samples were audited and a staff survey undertaken. After receiving feedback, the staff voted on practice policy options. The resulting policy was evaluated 3 and 9 months.

RESULTS: Prior to the intervention, GPs spent on average 40 min/doctor/month with PSRs. There were 239 items of promotional material in the practice and 4660 tablets in the sample cupboard. These were reduced by 32% and 59%, respectively, at 3 months after policy adoption and the reduction was sustained at 9 months. Vioxx was the most common drug name in promotional material. Staff adopted a policy of reduced access to PSRs including: reception staff not to make appointments for PSRs or accept promotional material; PSRs cannot access sample cupboards; GPs wishing to see PSRs may do so outside consulting hours. At 3 and 9 months, most staff were satisfied with the changes. Promotional items/room were not significantly reduced at 3 months (-4.0 items/room ; 95% CI -6.61 to -1.39; p = 0.066) or 9 months (-2.63 items/room; 95% CI -5.86 to 0.60; p = 0.24). Generic prescribing significantly increased at 3 months (OR 2.28, 95% CI 1.31 to 3.86; p = 0.0027) and 9 months (OR 2.07, 95% CI 1.13 to 3.82; p = 0.016).

CONCLUSION: There was a marked reduction in interactions with PSRs with majority staff satisfaction and improved prescribing practices. The new policy will form part of the practice’s orientation package. Reception staff give PSRs a letter explaining the policy. It is hoped that the extra 40 min/doctor of consulting time translates into more time with patients and time to evaluate more independent sources of drug information.

 

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Cases of wilful misrepresentation are a rarity in medical advertising. For every advertisement in which nonexistent doctors are called on to testify or deliberately irrelevant references are bunched up in [fine print], you will find a hundred or more whose greatest offenses are unquestioning enthusiasm and the skill to communicate it.

The best defence the physician can muster against this kind of advertising is a healthy skepticism and a willingness, not always apparent in the past, to do his homework. He must cultivate a flair for spotting the logical loophole, the invalid clinical trial, the unreliable or meaningless testimonial, the unneeded improvement and the unlikely claim. Above all, he must develop greater resistance to the lure of the fashionable and the new.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963