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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 12896

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: news

Moynihan R.
Health seminars spruik drug firms
The Australian 2008 Feb 22,25197,23255729-2702,00.html

Full text:

MEDICAL seminars sold to thousands of Australian GPs as independent are in fact sponsored by drug companies, which are allowed to suggest speakers and topics related to their products.

Internal company documents obtained by The Australian reveal one big provider of educational seminars – which organises events at universities and hospitals across the country – has been offering top-level drug company sponsors the chance to “work with us to determine a speaker and topic for the program”.

HealthEd’s 2008 sponsorship prospectus offers platinum-level sponsors – which can pay thousands of dollars for a one-day seminar – the opportunity to “determine a topic that is on-message for your product area”.

This is despite a requirement from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, who accredit the continuing medical education of GPs, that educational seminars be independent. Practitioners must complete ongoing education requirements to remain vocationally registered.

The pharmaceutical industry has confirmed it is not unusual for companies to suggest speakers at sponsored educational events for doctors, but both industry and HealthEd stress all suggestions are subject to approval by the educational provider.

However, leaked internal emails show sponsor suggestions are at times enthusiastically embraced, with HealthEd telling drug company Organon in 2006 “we will do our best to accommodate your request”.

The sponsor replies: “This is really great news for Organon and we greatly appreciate the … support you extended us.”

Organon is now part of Schering-Plough, which told The Australian it paid $40,000 to sponsor a series of HealthEd seminars last year. The company also confirmed drug companies were allowed “to suggest speakers and topics” subject to approval by the provider.

In another leaked email, a CSL representative asked HealthEd to “determine the speaker’s opinion” towards a CSL drug “as I would like to ensure he positions it appropriately”. CSL did not reply to requests for an interview.

During a seminar in Sydney 18 months ago, one speaker, Brian Sproule, made several enthusiastic mentions of weight-loss drug Duromine.

Yet the GP audience was not told that 3M, the company marketing Duromine, had suggested the speaker and paid for presentation training.

Dr Sproule said he was not paid by 3M and, like other speakers, said the sponsor had no influence on his talk.

Peter Mansfield from advocacy group Healthy Skepticism said drug companies were unlikely to suggest speakers who would contradict marketing messages. He called for an end to the sponsorship of accredited medical events.

The convenor of HealthEd, Ramesh Manocha, said the thousands of doctors attending his seminars were made aware that some individual sessions were sponsored, but he admitted GPs were not told drug companies had suggested speakers for the sessions they sponsored.

Many GPs contacted for this article believed the seminars were independent.

Dr Manocha said topics for his popular seminars arose from surveys of GPs, and his organising committees made final decisions on speakers. “We filter the suggestions that come from the industry.”

He said he no longer used the HealthEd 2008 sponsorship prospectus and that his current arrangements with sponsors were more stringent than other providers of education.

“It’s standard industry practice to have sponsor involvement,” Dr Manocha said.

Ian Chalmers, chief executive of Medicines Australia, the drug industry’s peak body, confirmed it was “not unusual in a sponsored professional event for pharmaceutical companies to be offered the opportunity of suggesting speakers”. He said GPs should be fully informed of any sponsor influence.

It is not uncommon for speakers at these accredited events to be paid consultants to the drug companies whose products they are speaking about.

At a recent seminar in Sydney, a key speaker had been a consultant to more than half a dozen companies.

- More on ABC radio’s Background Briefing, Sunday, 9am


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As an advertising man, I can assure you that advertising which does not work does not continue to run. If experience did not show beyond doubt that the great majority of doctors are splendidly responsive to current [prescription drug] advertising, new techniques would be devised in short order. And if, indeed, candor, accuracy, scientific completeness, and a permanent ban on cartoons came to be essential for the successful promotion of [prescription] drugs, advertising would have no choice but to comply.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963