Down on Big Pharma? You are not alone. Whether or not you actually believe that these companies are suppressing a cure for diabetes in order to stay in business, you probably have some (well-founded) suspicions about ethics in medical practice.
So you might be as intrigued as I was to discover the existence of PharmedOut, an independent, publicly-funded (!) project (hat tip: Pharma Gossip) that “empowers physicians to identify and counter inappropriate pharmaceutical promotion practices.”
What this means in regular English is that physicians and other medical professionals are under constant pressure to continue their education through what is called “CME,” or Continuing Medical Education Credits. Realizing this, the drug companies have built an extensive empire on offering these classes directly to doctors, often including travel, giveaways, fancy dinners and other perks. As you might imagine, the content of these courses was typically bent toward the products of the sponsor, a practice which has created some juicy scandals and widespread outcry of late.
PharmedOut is an organization run “by physicians for physicians” to offset this problem. It’s goal is to “disseminate information about how pharmaceutical companies influence what they prescribe, to increase access to unbiased information about drugs, and to encourage physicians to choose pharma-free CME.”
The Washington Post covered it recently, saying:
“PharmedOut is one of about two dozen projects across the country designed to teach doctors and nurses to critically evaluate information about drugs and to direct them to unbiased information. The projects are funded by a $21 million grant through the Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Grant Program, which was created as part of a 2004 settlement by Warner-Lambert involving the drugmaker’s illegal promotion of the widely used epilepsy drug Neurontin.”
“The second phase of the program, which is being administered by the Center for Evidence-Based Policy at the Oregon Health & Science University, will provide similar educational programs targeted at consumers.” (Now that I would like to see!)
Meanwhile, Big Pharma’s reputation remains in the gutter, according to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers
report called Recapturing the Vision. Based on a survey of 500 consumers and 150 members of US
industry stakeholder groups (doctors, researchers, former health policy makers and biotech executives, etc.), a huge disconnect exists between the public’s view of pharmaceutical companies and the industry’s self perception.
Referring to the report, Peter Claude, a USA-based PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, said: “It is difficult to comprehend how an industry that has saved so many lives should be held in such low public esteem.”
He also noted that “in the current climate of distrust, the public is questioning the industry’s motives and practices from sales and marketing to pricing to drug development.”
Other quotables on the subject:
Peter Claude again, speaking to PharmaTimes WorldNews: “‘No-one is listening to them (the drugmakers) and no-one wants to listen to them,’ … which means that the industry has to change the dynamic of its communication, especially at a time when the sector is under such pressure from governments and a fairly hostile media.”
Stephen Willis, a family physician and associate dean of the small, 270-student medical school of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.: “I’m ethically opposed to commercial support of CMEs. I just deal with too many people who have to choose between heat in the wintertime or paying for drugs.”
He adds: “Most taxpayers have no idea that they could pay less for their drugs if the pharmaceutical companies took the couple of billion dollars they spent subsidizing CME and used it to reduce the cost of drugs.” Oy vey!