Medical Schools Just Say No to Drug Reps' Gifts

Article excerpt

SACRAMENTO -- Another medical school has joined what could be a growing movement to ban faculty and residents from accepting gifts from drug company representatives.

The University of California, Davis, Health System decided in late November to forbid its medical staff to accept gifts from drug salesmen, including drug samples, pens, mugs, and meals, however small they might be. Earlier, the school had banned drug company representatives from walking into the clinical areas on a preceptorship.

By taking this action, the school joins a cadre of institutions that includes Yale University, which implemented its policy in 2005, the University of Pennsylvania, which did so in July 2006, and Stanford University, which implemented its policy in October 2006. At UC Davis, the policy goes into effect in July 2007.

The new prohibition "picks off the low-lying fruit" in an attempt by the institution to create a greater distance between its clinical practice and the pharmaceutical industry, said Dr. Timothy E. Albertson, the university system's executive director of clinical care.

The school has plans to look at the issue of conflict of interest in further detail, particularly in regard to relationships with and practices of other vendors. "We're certainly not trying to change capitalism, but we are trying to redefine the ethics of this type of involvement," he said.

The efforts at UC Davis and the other schools were spurred in part by an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2006;295:429-33).

The article noted that many authoritative bodies, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and government agencies, have made attempts to curtail practices that constitute a conflict of interest for physicians. But the article also said those actions have largely failed to change the current climate. Thus, the 11 authors of the paper urged academic medical centers to take the lead by, among other things, banning the acceptance of gifts, samples, and payment for time spent at meetings.

Academic medical centers need to adopt such policies because the medical profession looks to them for leadership, and because academic medical centers shape the ethics of the profession, the proposal said.

The article noted that 90% of the marketing dollars spent by the pharmaceutical industry were directed at doctors, despite the increase in money spent on direct-to-consumer marketing in recent years.

According to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information and consulting company, drug companies spent $27 billion on product promotion in 2004, of which $16 billion was for free drug samples and $7.3 billion, including gifts and meals, went to sales representative contacts.

The pharmaceutical industry, which adopted strict guidelines on gift giving in 2002, says that limiting the practices and access of their sales representatives will deprive physicians of the best expertise on their medicines. …