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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 1938

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

Allen L.
Medicine ads 'breach code'
The Financial Review ( Australia) 2005 Jul 22

Keywords:
Advertising prescribing software Medicines Australia


Notes:

Ralph Faggotter’s Comments: Advertising of drugs on Medical Record and Prescribing Software, in Australia, represents an attempt by pharmaceutical companies to persuade doctors to prescribe the more expensive drugs rather than the most appropriate drugs. Rational prescribing goes out the window!


Full text:

Medicine ads ‘breach code’
Author: Lisa Allen
Date: 22/07/2005
The Financial Review, Page: 14

A new report alleges improper influence on doctors’ prescribing habits,
writes Lisa Allen.

Advertising on prescribing software, which is used by more than 90 per
cent of general practitioners, is breaching the drug industry’s code of
conduct and improperly influencing doctor’s prescribing habits a group
of academics and consumer advocates have warned.

Ken Harvey and other academics, in an article published in the Medical
Journal of Australia this week, called for the banning of drug
promotions on prescribing software.

A substantial proportion of advertising in the most commonly used
software, Medical Director, appears to lack compliance with Medicines
Australia’s self-regulatory code of conduct, he said.

The code calls for brand name drugs to be advertised with their generic
equivalents, while any claims about the efficacy of drugs should be
backed up with scientific evidence.

But Dr Harvey said the drug Celebrex, which has been linked to heart
conditions, is advertised on the prescribing software with claims there
is a large body of evidence showing no significant increase in
cardiovascular risk. Dr Harvey said this was potentially misleading
because Australia’s drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods
Administration, has official warnings the drug could increase heart
attack risk.

The Medical Director software features 79 different advertisements for
41 prescription products marketed by 17 companies. Dr Harvey said 95 per
cent of advertisements making promotional claims appeared non-compliant
with the code.

The drug ads appear as banner or larger advertisements, and 56 per cent
of viewers judged the generic name accompanying the advertisement as
illegible.

“If the drug companies are promoting drug names and the generic name is
invisible, it’s not balanced information and it breaches the Medicines
Australia code,” said Dr Harvey yesterday.

“If there is a claim made that a drug works twice as well as other
drugs, the claims should be based on evidence and supported by
appropriate evidence. We found many of them were not,” he said.

The lack of generic names on the prescribing software make it hard for
people to compare generic with original products.

Dr Harvey said drug companies continued to be fined and sanctioned, but
they keep breaching the code because the fines are minimal.

His research has sparked an angry reaction from Medicines Australia,
which represents most major drug companies.

“The Independent Code of Conduct committee is considering the issues
raised by Dr Harvey in his paper as a formal complaint under the
Medicines Australia code of conduct,” Medicines Australia said in a
statement.

The statement said it is disappointing that this issue is being debated
before the independent committee decision had been finalised and due
process had been allowed to take place.

Dr Harvey said following previous correspondence with Medicines
Australia, in early April, 2005 he demonstrated Medical Director
software and discussed concerns regarding the drug ads displayed with
Medicines Australia staff.

“At no stage did they, or I, suggest that publication of this paper
should be delayed until the issues contained had been considered by
Medicines Australia Code Committee.”

Doctors Reform Society president Tim Woodruff said there are multiple
ways in which drug companies appear to be breaching the code of conduct.

“However the investigating body is Medicine Australia’s own committee
and own appeals committee, limiting capacity for accountable and
transparent adjudication of the code of conduct.”

 

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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