Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19675
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
Ethical fears over Pfizer deal with pharmacists
The Sydney Morning Herald 2011 Oct 20
A COALITION of 60 health groups has described a deal for pharmacists to promote Pfizer brand drugs as ‘‘highly questionable’‘, saying it could result in patients paying more for medication.
The chief executive of the Consumer Health Forum, Carol Bennett, said the deal – under which Pfizer pays pharmacies $7 for every patient they sign up to ‘‘support programs’‘ for nine of its drugs – was another example of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia seeking to maximise profits at the expense of consumers.
The support programs involve Pfizer sending regular emails and text messages to patients about their medication and condition, in what some say is thinly-disguised marketing.
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The managing director of Pfizer Australia, John Latham, yesterday told Pharmacy News more than 11,000 patients had signed up for the support programs. However, it was unclear if they were all referred by pharmacists. He said more than 1000 pharmacies were taking part in the scheme.
Ms Bennett said the program was concerning because it provided financial incentives to pharmacy owners to promote loyalty to a particular brand over other, potentially cheaper versions of the same medication.
The deal, which follows the guild’s axed plan to market Blackmores dietary supplements with prescription drugs, drew widespread criticism.
Ms Bennett said the ‘‘really questionable, unethical arrangements’‘ raised questions about why the federal government provided funding to the guild to provide professional services and dispense medicines.
The government will provide $15 billion to the guild under a five-year ‘‘community pharmacy agreement’‘ signed last year.
‘‘It does raise the question: why is the government subsidising this monopoly when [the guild] is actively trying everything it can to increase its profits?’‘ Ms Bennett said.
Psychiatrist and spokesman for the group Healthy Skepticism, Jon Jureidini, said the Pfizer deal was ‘‘very worrying’‘.
‘‘Essentially what it’s doing is opening up a direct marketing relationship between industry and patients and there’s a kick for the pharmacists on the side,’‘ Associate Professor Jureidini said. ‘‘It really does demean the role of pharmacists, who have an enormously important role to play in our health system in terms of quality use of medicines and picking up adverse reactions to drugs.’‘
The president of the Australian Medical Association, Steve Hambleton, said the Pfizer deal threatened to undermine confidence in health professionals.
‘‘The relationship between pharmacists and patients is really important to maintain compliance with the drugs we [prescribe] them,’‘ he said. ‘‘Any third party in that arrangement is going to undermine confidence.’‘
In a statement the guild said drug manufacturers had similar arrangements with doctors who received a fee for signing up patients to educational programs. However, Dr Hambleton said he was unaware of any such arrangements.
A spokesman for the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said pharmacists approved to supply medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme had a responsibility to act ethically.