Do pharmaceutical gifts to doctors improve patient care… or is the relationship just a bit too cozy for comfort? Are they helping doctors to gain important information about available prescription medications, or attempting to influence them into prescribing high-cost drugs for the wrong reasons?
The American Heart Association reports that almost two-thirds of Americans currently use medicines, 49 percent of those being prescription drugs and 30 percent over-the-counter, and 32 million Americans take three or more medications daily.
With billions of dollars at stake every year, pharmaceutical companies, physicians, and state legislators have differing views… as do patients.
If New York Governor David Paterson has his way, pharmaceutical companies will face stricter regulation of the practice of giving gifts to physicians. New York isn’t the first state to address the influence of pharmaceuticals.
In Minnesota, where pharmaceutical company gifts to doctors valued at more than $50 are already banned, three new bills are under consideration. One would require health regulators to develop a drug-education program for doctors, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals designed to provide evidence-based recommendations for pharmaceuticals use. A second would restrict data-mining of doctors’ prescription records in order to tailor marketing messages, and the third would expand Minnesota’s law banning pharma gifts to doctors to also cover device companies.
Vermont law requires pharmaceutical companies to disclose the dollar value of gifts over $25 to doctors, and prohibits nearly all financial and other gifts (free food, travel, entertainment, subscriptions, or anything else of value) from pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies to doctors, nurses, hospital staff and others. Gifts that provide help to patients (free samples, scholarships, short-term loans of medical equipment) are still allowed, but must be fully disclosed to the state Office of the Attorney General.
Massachusetts law prohibits gifts to legislators and other public officials of anything worth more than $50.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures – Marketing and Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA) of Pharmaceuticals:
As of December 1, 2009, nine states: California (2004), Florida (2006) Maine (2003, 2005, 2007), Massachusetts (2008), Minnesota (1993), New Hampshire (2006), South Carolina (2006), Vermont (2002, 2007, 2009), West Virginia (2001), and the District of Columbia (2003, 2008), have laws or resolutions affecting pharmaceutical marketing. A separate Texas law (2007) requires a state-sponsored public awareness campaign to educate consumers about marketing solicitations by email or Internet. Texas (2009) also has required a study regarding the confidentiality of prescription information records. The specific provisions differ among these states. Note that states such as Maine and Vermont each have two or more separate laws, enacted in different years. Measures that passed both legislative chambers in California and Colorado but were vetoed are not included in the tally above.
There is no doubt that pharmaceutical advances have improved and saved lives, but with pharmaceutical companies bombarding us through ads on television and radio and generous give-aways to doctors, patients would be wise to question the process leading up to that prescription being written.
Are such regulations just another overreaching government intrusion into the private marketplace, or a much-needed protection of patients’ rights?
Please take a moment to answer the poll and share your opinions in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from some medical professionals as well as patients.
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