The Pharmaceutical Industry Has Influence in the Doctor's Office, Too
Rackl, Lorilyn, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Health Writer
"Why cook?" asks the invitation from Merck & Co.
Why, indeed. New Orleans physician Dr. Charles Field realized some time ago that there is little need to do that in a city full of great restaurants and drug companies eager to pick up the check.
On a March evening, Field joined more than a dozen doctors for the "Why cook?" event held at a local wine cellar. It allowed doctors likely to prescribe arthritis drugs to order a meal from the establishment's deli and sip wine while they waited for their food to be ready.
In the meantime, they could look over drug-company literature or talk with a Merck representative.
Doctors in town know these events as "dine 'n' dash."
As the drug industry reaches new extremes in its courtship of prescribing doctors, the giveaways are flowing freely. In New Orleans, for example, doctors have been showered with things like Christmas trees, manicures, car washes, bottles of wine - even cash.
Drug companies' powerful reach extends beyond research labs and into the offices of doctors, who are coming under increasing fire for accepting free dinners and gifts from the pharmaceutical industry.
"Research is a little different because there is a role for industry. But it's very hard to justify accepting gifts and dinners from the industry," said Dr. Bob Goodman, a New York internist who started a group called "No Free Lunch." The organization's goal is to get doctors to stop taking freebies from drug companies.
"Physicians will say it doesn't influence their behavior, but the fact is it does," said Goodman, who spoke this month about the physician-pharmaceutical industry relationship at a medical conference in Chicago.
"The pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars doing this. You'd figure if it didn't work, they'd be smarter with their money than that," he added. "Plenty of studies show that promotion does in fact influence prescribing behavior."
Food is one of the industry's favorite ways to get doctors' attention. There are the standard doctor dinners, typically an instructive evening with a talk by an out-of-town medical expert.
At the "dash" or "to-go" events, education takes a back seat to convenience, and doctors don't have to endure long lectures just to get a bite to eat.
"We have gone as often as five times in one week," said Field, an internist. "You have to eat somewhere, you know."
Field estimates he's attended 150 to 200 drug-company events in the space of a year.
David Anstice, the Merck official who oversees drug sales in North and South America, says the "Why cook? …