Research Article: Mandatory Disclosure of Pharmaceutical Industry-Funded Events for Health Professionals

Date Published: November 3, 2009

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Jane Robertson, Ray Moynihan, Emily Walkom, Lisa Bero, David Henry

Abstract: David Henry and colleagues examine compliance with new disclosure requirements of Medicines Australia, the pharmaceutical industry representative body, and argue that they fall short and instead more comprehensive reporting standards are needed.

Partial Text: We are in a period of unprecedented scrutiny of the relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and doctors [1]–[4]. Legislators are now considering how they might become involved in the regulation of these practices. This is a telling comment on the perceived failure of the medical profession to regulate itself and of self-regulation by industry. But reliable and comprehensive data on the nature and extent of industry sponsorship are rare. Several states in the US have mandatory disclosure laws for physician payments, but these data have proved difficult to access and analyse [5]. The US Congress is considering new mechanisms for revealing industry–professional interactions (the so-called “Sunshine” Acts) [6],[7].

In Australia, the emphasis in disclosure is on monitoring the level and type of sponsorship of educational events rather than documenting the dollar value of gifts and other payments to physicians. Since 2007 pharmaceutical companies have been required to report all functions (educational events) provided or sponsored for health professionals. They are required to disclose the following: the venue; the professional status of attendees; a description of the function and duration of the educational content of events; the nature of the hospitality; the total cost of hospitality; the numbers of attendees; and the total cost of the function [11].

The information provided by Medicines Australia points to a high level of contact between pharmaceutical manufacturers and health professionals, particularly doctors. The per-person expenditure was greatest for medical specialists who prescribe high cost drugs—oncologists, endocrinologists, and cardiologists. Generally, expenditure at individual events was modest; however the cumulative expenditure and the overall level of contact was high. The available information suggests that companies exert influence over the educational content of events in most cases, and doctors in training are often present at these functions. There is substantial evidence that attendance at company-sponsored events modifies prescribing practices [13]–[15]. The presence of doctors in training and students (in hospital-based sessions) may lead to a process of enculturation whereby they come to regard repeated contact with pharmaceutical companies as a normal and acceptable part of their professional practice. The data reviewed here indicate that, from a company perspective, it is cheap and easy to sponsor meetings in hospitals and health centres, and the return on this “investment” is likely to be high. Equally, it is straightforward for administrators to limit sponsorship of such activities, should they choose to do so. It is difficult to see a role for pharmaceutical companies at hospital grand rounds.

The Australian reporting standards are deficient in not including details that enable a judgement about the educational value of company sponsored events. We believe that reporting schemes should require the following details: the names of the speakers presenting, whether sponsors played a role in suggestion or selection of speakers or the development of the content of presentations, and the nature of any direct or indirect financial ties between the speakers and the sponsors. This type of information is routinely requested by professional journals; so there are ample precedents and it is particularly relevant when judging the appropriateness of educational events.



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