Wednesday, October 03, 2012

More news from down under

Doctors accept big perks from drug companies, ACCC told

Some doctors accept subsidised holidays from drug companies, the ACCC heard. Source: The Australian

GREEDY doctors are creaming tens of thousands of dollars a year from drug giants for delivering talks using slides prepared by the companies - and they are using pharmaceutical company travel sponsorships for medical conferences to take holidays instead, the consumer watchdog has been told.

A drug company insider has blown the whistle on the practices which raise serious conflict of interest concerns in a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission which is inquiring into the medicine industry's new code of conduct.

The "personal opinion from a player in the pharmaceutical industry" says a typical one hour talk on behalf of a pharmaceutical company would earn the speaker $1,000 but many doctors demand drug company representatives pay up to $3,000.

"Often, but not always, they use slides provided by the company or have to adhere to Royal Australian College of General Practice accredited presentations - so the preparation is quite minimal in many of these cases," the insider says.

"There can be no denying that the educational content of these talks is obviously biased to the companies' products."

Doctors who prescribe the drugs they are promoting also receive up to $15,000 worth of airfares from drug companies when they ask to travel overseas to attend medical conferences, the submission says.

These key opinion leaders often enjoy subsidised holidays as extensions to these sponsorships, the insider says.

"It has been known for health care professionals to be sponsored to attend international meetings and never turn up - probably motoring off around Europe somewhere," the submission says.

It is also alleged that doctors sometimes make threats to sales representatives to get a travel grant or more money for a talk by refusing access for a sales rep or threatening to prescribe another product.

The latest version of the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct for the pharmaceutical industry will for the first time expose in aggregate how much drug companies pay doctors for these services.

It is part of an attempt to deal with growing concerns doctors may be embroiled in conflicts of interest.

Consumers and some of the world's biggest drug companies are urging even greater levels of disclosure that would name individual doctors and reveal how much they get from each drug company.

The insider says the new code of conduct needs to be stronger and that no drug company should sponsor more than one overseas trip per doctor per year. Doctors should also be prevented from turning trips to overseas medical conferences into holidays.

In its submission to the ACCC, the Australian Medical Association says the involvement of doctors in developing a medicine is necessary to ensure they are used appropriately and doctors must be remunerated for the work.

Doctors have an ethical obligation to disclose any conflict of interest to patients, the AMA said, warning that revealing the money individual doctors get from drug companies "could unduly affect a medical practitioner's reputation" if not done correctly.

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