Monday, April 27, 2009

No More Freebies

Since January 1, 2009, US pharmaceutical representatives have been banned from giving physicians pens, table paper, toys, clocks and calculators and other related gifts. They have also been restricted in bringing doctors to fancy restaurants in order to listen to a talk expounding on the unique benefits their drugs might have and those days when we would be invited to attend a medical conference in some golf resort are over.

I admit that I’ve eaten my share of bagels, cream cheese and lox from my residency days and there were so many lunches and dinners in New York City that my wife and I were very familiar with all the trendy spots in the City during our training. We would never have had supper at the forever lost Windows of the World (at the World Trade Center) if it weren’t for the friendly medical rep who was pushing the latest acid-suppressing agent. And we’ve been to many Four Seasons, Ritz-Carltons and other fancy resort hotels all over the US courtesy of some drug company that would fly us to these meticulously choreographed scientific lectures with one single unifying purpose: to make sure we doctors had a good time and remember with fondness the awesome efficacy of their product.

I also admit I was irritated at first when I heard about the new limitations. As if my prescribing selection would be influenced by a penlight or post-it notes. But now I understand the wisdom behind all this. Never mind convention cities like Vegas and Boston and San Diego which are bound to lose business, or the damage to pen and mug and penlight advertising companies alone will be about $1.2 billion, the point is, according to the American Board of Internal Medicine, the pharmaceutical industry directs $18.9 billion towards physicians each year and this amount is simply obscene. This is one sacrifice all physicians can bear for the sake of our patients.

How could I think these billion dollar drug behemoths would take all the trouble to wine and dine me under the cover of furthering my education? It was always pure business for these guys. Ever wonder why GM, once the bluest of blue chip stocks is skirting bankruptcy while the drug companies continue to haul billions in profits year after year? Wasn’t there a figure a few years ago that if the US drug companies sold vehicles, the average car would cost $4.5 million (representing a markup of 30,000%). They would always claim that research costs were unbelievably high when in reality, the bulk of scientific breakthroughs arise from Government /taxpayer-funded institutions. There are 18.9 billion reasons for this ridiculous scheme. And the same car would cost $5000 in Mexico?

I am inclined to believe at this point why we also need to reform this widespread practice of gift-giving to doctors in the Philippines. The clear majority of Filipinos are unable to purchase the medications prescribed to them and no amount of laws that would encourage the utilization of generic drugs will hold back the excessive profits that drug companies make for as long as physicians maintain cozy relationships with their assigned reps. Who do we think end up paying for those junkets to Europe and the US anyway?


azron said...

very well said, sir.

hope you are having a nice weekend


Whit said...

Now we know why those TV commercials say, "Ask your doctor."