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An expert in pharmaceutical policy has said that the frequent interactions between pharmaceutical companies and health professionals can pose a conflict of interest for clinicians.

Prof. Barbara Mintzes told The Epoch Times that research has demonstrated that there was a corollary between health professionals receiving a low price meal while being promoted a drug and the rate of the professional then prescribing that medication compared to generic alternatives of similar quality.

Mintzes said a common example is pharmaceutical companies sponsoring events to provide food and drinks for health professionals.

“If you survey doctors, they will say, I can’t be bought for the price of a pizza or I can’t be bought for the price of a sandwich,” Mintzes said but she noted that research in the US found physicians that receive a meal promoting the drug of interest, averaging less than $20, had a significantly higher rate of prescribing that medication compared to generic alternatives of similar quality.

The study also found a dose-response where “the more meals provided; the more likely doctors are to prescribe the product.

Mintzes noted that while the decision may not be conscious, “we’re all human and there is a tendency to reciprocity whether we’re conscious of it or not.”

“You would also expect that the companies are also looking at the returns on investment on their marketing activities and would not continue with marketing activities that were ineffective in terms of stimulating sales.”

Prior to 2015, Medicines Australia required its member companies to publicize each event they had sponsored, including information of the event such as the number of health professionals and who had attended, how much money was spent and what was spent on with spending on food and drinks by far the most common.

Additionally, from Medicines Australia’s data from 2011 to 2015, Mintzes’s team found that on average, corporate sponsored events for pharmaceuticals were being held at hospitals and universities over 600 times every week, averaging 30 attendees per event.

However, since October 2015, Medicines Australia changed its codes of conduct from requiring food and drink payments being reported to have companies only listing clinicians they provided funding for.

Whilst this enhanced transparency around the identification of individual health professionals, subsequent studies led by the University of Sydney also observed a 34.1 percent reduction in disclosed spending in 2016 and decreased expenditure reports in the year following.

Despite Medicines Australians change in 2015, Mintzes’s recent co-authored study on underreporting of conflicts of interests by health professionals has raised further questions about the limitations of a self-reported system.

The team examined Medicines Australia’s public data and found that nearly half of pharmaceutical trials with Australian authors had omitted or incomplete conflicts of interest declarations when the research team received commercial funding.

“It certainly seems that it’s not a situation where there are just like one or two bad apples, who are hiding their conflicts of interest, it seems more of a situation where it’s quite widespread,” she said.