PhRMA imposes voluntary guidelines on pharma giving

January 7, 2009

These days everyone wants to know exactly what’s passing between pharmaceutical companies and doctors: Down to the cheapest pen, they want to know how doctors might be influenced by pharma. So, to fight the impression that pharma is exerting an undue influence on some or all physicians, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has introduced new, voluntary guidelines for how pharmaceutical companies deal with physicians.

If they are following the guidelines, pharmaceutical companies will not give out office supplies, clothing or other gifts with logos on them. This lines up with the legislation that several states, including Massachusetts, have passed or considered banning such gifts. The guidelines also prohibit the companies from paying for doctors’ meals.

While dealing with the small amounts involved with these sorts of gifts, though, the guidelines have neglected to deal with the bigger issues of how much physicians are paid by pharmaceutical companies for speaking appearances. These payments have been a major source of controversy for several psychiatrists in recent weeks.

Under the new code:

Pharmaceutical companies are barred from distributing office supplies, clothes and other gifts with company logos or product brand names to physicians and clinics, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The new code also prohibits the companies from paying for physicians’ meals, including those during medical education events, and requires that all grant money allocated for continuing medical education programs be handled by personnel who are not from sales and marketing departments.

The new code does not address the issue of the “amount drugmakers pay doctors to hit the speaking circuit for their products,” according to the Chronicle. The amount has not yet been capped but the companies have been told to keep a record of the consulting fees they pay to each physician (Cook, Houston Chronicle, 1/1).

According to the New York Times, the voluntary moratorium on supplying branded gifts and trinkets to physicians seeks to “counter the impression that gifts to doctors are intended to unduly influence medicine.”

However, while some physicians “applaud the gift ban, others seem offended by the insinuation that a ballpoint pen could turn their heads,” the Times reports, adding that “skeptics deride the voluntary ban as a superficial measure that does nothing to curb the far larger amounts drug companies spend each year on various other efforts to influence physicians” (Singer, New York Times, 12/31/08).

To learn more about the guidelines:

– read this Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report piece