Doctors in Pharma’s Pocket?

If you have diabetes, chances are you take at least one and possibly several prescription drugs. Naturally, people with or without diabetes expect their doctors to prescribe what is best for their condition based on science, without any commercial bias. Yet a report released last week suggests that current gift-giving practices by pharmaceutical companies make impartiality impossible.

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The report, entitled “Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice,” was issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). It recommends ending many common pharmaceutical company practices used to promote drugs to doctors, as well as requiring full disclosure of payments given to doctors hired to give presentations on drugs. According to an article in The New York Times on the report, pharmaceutical companies currently spend more money on services for doctors — such as free drug samples for patients, meals, and medical “refresher” courses — than they do on research or on consumer advertising. A 2007 survey of doctors found that more than 75% accepted meals or drug samples and that more than 25% were paid for giving drug-promotion lectures or enrolling patients in drug trials.

The IOM report recommends that pharmaceutical companies not be allowed to pay for doctors’ meals or for medical “refresher” courses. It also asks that doctors give the free drug samples they receive only to patients with limited income, and only when they can continue to provide the drug for free.

How do you feel about these recommendations? Who, ideally, should pay to educate doctors on the latest drugs and treatments? And what effect, if any, do you think drug promotion to doctors has had on your own prescriptions? Leave a comment below!

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