Health Systems Begin To Limit Drug Company Representatives’ Access to Doctors
USA Today on Wednesday examined "a small but growing number of health care systems that are turning their clinics into commercial-free zones" by eliminating or reducing the number of "clocks, calendars and other freebies dished out by drug companies." According to USA Today, several institutions are implementing policy changes to prevent representatives from drug companies from "encourag[ing] doctors to prescribe pricey brand-name drugs," a practice that is partly blamed for "driving up the cost of medical care." The drug industry in 2003 spent $22 billion on marketing to physicians, including providing free samples worth $16 billion in retail value, according to research firm IMS Health, which also found that the number of representatives in the past ten years has quadrupled to 90,000.
Reforms implemented by some health systems include banning or reducing the use of free drug samples; prohibiting representatives from buying lunch for medical office staff; tracking doctors' prescribing patterns; restricting drug company representatives' access to hospitals if they are caught "giving out food or loitering outside doctors' lounges"; and relying on pharmacy consultants rather than industry representatives for information on new drugs, USA Today reports. Some health providers have seen "dramatic" reductions in drug costs after making policy changes, according to USA Today. However, "[s]ome doctors complain that reformers are going too far" and that samples can help educate patients about new drugs. Christine Kirby, a spokesperson for Aventis, which opposes policies limiting drug representatives' access, said, "We believe that access to relevant scientific and educational information leads to optimal patient care" (Szabo, USA Today, 8/25).