Pharma hornet's nest keeps buzzing

Well, I'm convinced now. If you want to stir up a hornet's nest, there's no better way to do so than to take a position (any position, really) on the issue of whether physicians are being swayed unduly by gifts, trips, grants, pens and other nifty rewards from drug and device makers.

My most recent kick to the nest was my observation that while banning freebies may have a purpose, hospitals should be particularly careful when they forbid drug samples specifically. Your reaction was swift and varied.

One reader proposed a solution he thought might address the influence issue:
"One relatively simple solution (to the samples problem) might be for institutions to set up "blind pools" - you want 10 minutes with  a specific doctor to pitch your drug? It costs your firm $X, where X is a variable negotiated between the doctors, institutions, and pharma companies, and is publicly disclosed. No other gifts, retainers, backhanders or consultancy positions allowed for the doctors a particular company pitches to! Pharma companies would have to make the decision between pitching drugs to doctors, or having them as consultants. Pharma companies could have access to doctors, low cost meds would still available, it's simple, transparent, and avoids a doctor being tied to particular companies or drugs."

Another writer argued the sampling programs need to exist as is:
"Many physicians, hospitals and private practice physicians depend on
drug samples for their patients the elderly and low income, who cannot
afford the medications. Samples have been a blessing for these patients.
I am all for giving samples to patients in any of these facilities.
Samples have been a way of life for years and doctors depend on these,
and so do patients who cannot afford the  outrageous cost of medications
in this country. While pharmaceutical companies make millions to
manufacture one pill of less then 10-15 cents, and pay workers in other
countries less then $5.00 an hour, this what really should be looked
into, so medications can be affordable for  all regardless of income."

Still another reader suggested that it's other cushy incentives, not drug samples, that give him pause:
"Frankly, I am far less concerned about drug reps giving docs some free Rx samples. My real concern pertains to Rx firms giving free trips to physicians under the disguise of educational seminars to wonderful destination resorts. Sure, the docs may hear a few presentations about new drugs or research efforts by the Rx firm ... but the value of the plane tickets plus hotel expenses plus meals and whatever else that goes along with a few hours of education does not appear to be proper business."

Readers, keep your thoughts coming. We all know this issue is just beginning to boil over. Look for a lot more steam to rise over the next few months, especially as the run up begins for the next presidential election...seems like a political hotspot to me! - Anne