No More Free Stuff for Doctors
After reading this article in the Post-Dispatch, I took a quick inventory of some odds and ends I have lying around. A pen from a bank. A refrigerator magnet from a private elementary school. A notepad from a real estate agent. A calendar from a nonprofit. I’m being influenced right and left! (Maybe that magnet is the reason I’m continually writing about the benefits of parental choice and a free market in education.)
The article reports on pharmaceutical companies’ recent voluntary ban of “non-educational gifts” to doctors. The ban comes in the wake of much criticism of drug companies’ practices, which criticism seems unlikely to go away:
Skeptics say the ban on gifts is an empty gesture that doesn’t adequately address the financial relationships between pharmaceutical companies and the doctors whose decisions on drugs have a direct impact on patients.
What this ban overlooks is that pens, notepads, and the rest can be educational. True, they don’t have a lot of statistics and side-effect warnings on them, but they call attention to a product so a doctor can investigate it further. A doctor isn’t going to prescribe drugs that don’t work just because he got some free office supplies. If he didn’t treat people effectively, he’d lose business, which would be more costly than losing a few pens. And pharmaceutical companies know that their products have to be effective in order to generate sales.
The gifts spread awareness about a product and help prevent a situation in which a patient could have been helped by a drug, but wasn’t because a physician didn’t know it was available. That sounds far-fetched, but only because pharmaceutical companies do such a good job of putting their products in the spotlight, using advertisements, gifts, seminars, brochures, and other methods. If they didn’t, you couldn’t expect med schools to call up all the people who graduated 15 years ago and say, “Guess what? This drug wasn’t invented back in the day, but now that it’s on the market, you should know. …”
I doubt this voluntary gesture will put a halt to the continuing regulation of pharmaceutical advertising, but I hope legislators will consider how much good that advertising can do.