February 04, 2007

Drug companies ban freebies to Doctors

In an attempt to restrain themselves from influencing doctors' prescriptions, pharmaceutical companies have decided to stop sponsoring trips of doctors and their families to exotic locations overseas. Gifts, in cash or kind, to doctors are also set to be banned.

These curbs flow from a code of conduct drug companies have agreed to apply on themselves, restricting travel, gifts, shopping and entertainment expenses offered to doctors for promotion of medicines.

The code, drawn up by Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India which represents companies that control nearly two-thirds of the medicine market, comes into effect from this month. The organisation said the curbs are in line with international standards and support self-regulation through compliance.

The code also seeks to restrain companies from making tall claims while promoting medicines. It says that promotion of medicines should encourage the appropriate use by presenting them objectively and without exaggerating their properties.

"The industry has drawn up a voluntary code, as it has an obligation to enhance ethical standards, responsibility to provide accurate information about its medicines to support their rational use and a legitimate right to promote them," OPPI director general Ajit Dangi told TOI.

Authorities have long been grappling with ways to curb the rampant practice of pharma firms influencing doctors through various 'incentives'. The government, which is trying to force companies to reduce medicine prices by cutting down "marketing margins", had in the past even contemplated banning prescriptions of brands and was planning to ask doctors to only prescribe formulations. The plan was later shelved.

The Indian Medical Association, the country’s largest group of doctors, recently submitted a policy document on drugs and medical equipment which states that physician should not be influenced by pharma firms while prescribing drugs and devices. Physicians will not give prescriptions in code or enter into agreements with pharmacies, the document states.

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