Doctors are used to a slew of gifts from drug reps. The present parade has closed now that drug makers are saying no to the freebies.
Starting January 1 pharmaceutical companies have agreed to stop giving gifts they say were meant to foster good will. Others say that those freebies given to doctors helped slant the medical industry in their favor.
Pens, coffee mugs and t-shirts are gone from the drug reps tool kit. Still many are skeptical that this ban will make for big changes considering the larger freebies that the drug companies use to lure doctors.
The New York Times reports:
“It’s not just the pens — it’s the paper on the exam table, the tongue depressor, the stethoscope tags, medical calipers that might be used to interpret an EKG, penlights,” said Dr. Robert Goodman, a physician in internal medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.
In 1999 Dr. Goodman started No Free Lunch, a group that encourages doctors to reject the drug company’s gift bags. The group believes that health care providers should steer more to the information side of the drug company reps than the gimme something cool side
The new voluntary industry guidelines want to disprove the motion that goodies are used to influence doctors from writing their products on the prescription pads. The code was written by the y to counter the impression that gifts to doctors are intended to unduly influence medicine. The code, drawn up by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. It bars drug companies from handing out branded pens, staplers, flash drives, paperweights, calculators and other like items.
Larger ticket items were banned in 2002. those big ticket items included tickets to sporting events, resort stays and other expensive services.
Now the drug companies have to make due with educational type of freebies. Those can include free lunches and sponsored dinners as long as the talk is about the products.
Last year almost $16 million was given to doctors in drug samples. That little detail could be more influential than all the pens in China.
The industry is also still allowing for doctors to be paid tens of thousands a year as consultants.
“We have arrived at a point in the history of medicine in America where doctors have deep, deep financial ties with the drug makers and marketers,” said Allan Coukell, the director of policy for the Prescription Project, a nonprofit group in Boston working to promote evidence-based medicine. “Financial entanglements at all the levels have the potential to influence prescribing in a way that is not good.”
While 40 drug makers, including Pfizer and Eli Lilly & Company have signed on the code others have not.
Doctors scoff at the notion that getting a free pen turns the ink towards a certain drug company though. Some doctors even display the massive collections they have received over the years. Dr. Jeffrey F. Caren has a pillar in his office with more than 1,200 freebie pens. He doesn’t remember most of the drugs though, like others who use the free pens. They are just nice to have on hand.