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Pharmaceutical Companies Look to Private Practice for Doctors Willing to Promote Drugs

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A few weeks ago I wrote about medical residency programs accepting pharmaceutical industry gifts and the ethical concerns that The Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine has about the practice. Specifically, when medical residency programs accept financial gifts from the drug industry there are definite conflicts of interest. Particularly, it is problematic for young doctors to receive so much of their financial support from drug companies, especially when they will be prescribing prescription drugs for the very first time. But now there is another pharmaceutical company practice that’s causing some raised eyebrows.

For years, drug companies sought out influential university doctors with impressive credentials to sell their message to other doctors, convincing them to prescribe a particular prescription medication. However, many universities are tightening their ethics policies—that is, universities don’t want their researchers accepting large pharmaceutical company payments to travel around the country and tout the “effectiveness” of various prescription medications because of conflict-of-interest policies. In fact, the practice can easily lead to more non-approved and potentially harmful use of the drugs, better known as off-label prescribing.

Nevertheless, since university researchers are no longer available to do this dirty work, pharmaceutical companies are turning toward smaller, private physicians to promote their products. Tara Dall, a primary-care doctor who entered private practice in 2001, is one of these doctors and made $45,000 from just three months of speaking engagements. The problem is that while medical schools can restrict their doctors from such biased speaking and require them to tell their patients of any pharmaceutical-sponsored speaking events they’ve done, there are no such requirements of private practice doctors.