Medical Profession–Influence or Business as Usual?

Industry Insights from Paul Meade, M. Sc, MPH

As I wander down the aisle of my local grocery store, I pause at the various stations anchored the end of these long rows with people offering a “freebie” of some food product, a bite of sausage, some aged cheese, a new fruit drink. Each passerby stops briefly for his free sample and then moves along deciding whether to buy the product or not. When I arrive at the checkout, I casually hand over the collection of coupons I received in the mail to reduce my final bill. The reason I am at the store today is because of the flyer I received inside my weekly newspaper announcing a bevy of “specials.” Has the grocery store tried to influence my buying decisions? You bet they have. That’s good business.

Have you ever gone to buy a new car? Does the salesperson do everything within her ability to make the sale before you leave the showroom, offering you discounts, incentives, free service, and a favorable trade-in value for your old car? You bet she does! She knows that if you leave the showroom, the chances are you won’t be back–so she throws everything she can at you. Is she trying to influence your buying decision? Of course she is!

So then why is it, when a pharmaceutical company representative attempts to influence a physician’s prescribing decisions, people cry foul? A recent prescription drug survey conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center found that most people object to incentives pharmaceutical company representatives offer to physicians to influence their prescribing habits. Is this so bad, or is it business as usual like almost every other company in the world? If my doctor can offer me a new drug to cure a lingering ailment that was resistant to previous treatments because some pharmaceutical company representative gave her a sample to try, then am I not better off for it? To be sure, there is a negative side to all this, and one that perhaps most people fear: will my doctor give me a drug that I shouldn’t have just because some sales representative gave the doctor a pen? What if I get a prescription for a more expensive drug that I simply cannot afford? Gee, folks, have a little faith in your doctor!

I think it is unrealistic to believe that a company in the business of discovering and developing new medicines to treat diseases should not conduct “business as usual” like any other company. As consumers, we are influenced all the time by company advertisements for products. And do we reject coupons or grocery store “freebies” that entice us to purchase a company’s product because we feel they are unduly trying to influence us? There are enough regulations in place in the healthcare system to ensure this “influence” is not excessive or unethical. Have a little faith!

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