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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 13357

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

Pharmas spend $31m on doctors: report
Associated Press 2008 Mar 28
http://news.smh.com.au/pharmas-spend-31m-on-doctors-report/20080328-2229.html


Full text:

Australian drug companies forked out more than $30 million in six months hosting doctors at controversial “educational” events, a report has revealed.

Pharmaceutical industry body Medicines Australia has been forced to detail spending on doctors’ seminars of up to $2,500 a head, often hosted at expensive hotels and in exotic locations.

A report prepared for Medicines Australia by international consulting firm Deloitte shows that 42 companies spent $31 million, including $16.4 million on direct hospitality costs like meals, flights and hotels, in the second half of last year.

In one case, European firm AstraZeneca paid $514,000 to host a national symposium for 226 gastroenterologists in Melbourne – a cost of $2,275 a head.

There were 385,221 attendances by doctors at 14,643 functions over the period.

Of these, 52 unidentified events are now under investigation for possible breaches of the industry’s new strict code of conduct, imposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to improve transparency.

The watchdog said public reporting was in response to public concern about excessive spending, lavish entertaining and questions about the firms’ “undue influence” over those who write prescriptions.

Critics of pharmaceutical marketing say the figures represent an “orgy of wining and dining” and were proof the events were more about drug marketing than educating doctors.

But Medicines Australia chief executive Ian Chalmers defended the spending, saying companies have a responsibility to ensure that doctors are kept informed about any new or improved use of prescription medicines.

“No one knows more about pharmaceuticals than the people who make them, so dialogue between those who manufacture medicines and those who prescribe them is critically important to all Australian patients,” Mr Chalmers said.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Rosanna Capolingua argued the seminars were necessary for doctors.

“It is a great advantage for doctors who attend these education seminars to be able to interrogate the manufacturers of the medicine, discuss and look at the data, and gain knowledge before prescribing it for their patients,” Dr Capolingua said.

She also defended the total spending, saying it had been predicted to be more than five times higher.

But Paul Frijters, a professor of economics at Queensland University of Technology, said the figure appeared to be a gross underestimation, describing it as a fudged report with “repeated blanks and non-disclosures”.

Peter Mansfield, GP and director of international anti-drug lobby group Healthy Scepticism, said several studies showed doctors were influenced to make prescribing decisions based on repeated exposure to brand names at such events.

Without more detailed information, like which drug was promoted at each event to contrast with national health priorities, the report was of little value, Dr Mansfield said.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant but these companies clearly don’t want to come out into the sun,” he said.

Newcastle academic Ray Moynihan, a vocal critic of drug company marketing, described the events list as an “orgy of wining and dining designed to schmooze doctors and boost the sales of new medicines”.

“It confirms what we’ve been saying,” Mr Moynihan said.

“These events are not about education and they shouldn’t be happening.”

 

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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