November 01, 2007

Doctors can't endorse pharma brands

That doctors cannot promote themselves through advertisements is a known fact. But can medical practitioners endorse pharmaceutical brands? According to Dr Chandra Gulati, Delhi-based editor of the Monthly Index of Medical Specialities (MIMS), a foreign insulin’s promotional booklet recently carried descriptive endorsements by local doctors. This particular brand was variously deemed as the “ideal insulin", "as strong as steel", "a blue ribbon insulin" and carried passport-size photographs of all the 63 doctors who endorsed it.

Gulati says such endorsements, which are not few and far between, violate the Medical Council of India (MCI)’s 2002 regulations regarding professional conduct, etiquette and ethics for registered medical practitioners. The regulations specify: "A physician shall not give to any person, whether for compensation or otherwise, any approval, recommendation, endorsement, certificate, report or statement with respect to any drug, medicine, nostrum remedy, surgical, or therapeutic article, apparatus or appliance or any commercial product or article with respect to any property, quality or use thereof or any test, demonstration or trial thereof, for use in connection with his name, signature, or photograph in any form or manner of advertising through any mode nor shall he boast of cases, operations, cures or remedies or permit the publication of report thereof through any mode."

Says Dr Vasant Pawar, an MCI member, "If it (an endorsement) amounts to advertisement, it is not permitted."
A senior pharmaceutical industry official too agrees that such endorsements are not allowed. However, the official adds, "A doctor can talk about a molecule based on the research data and quote studies in medical literature."
In other words, doctors can make claims about a drug like, say, paracetamol but not a particular paracetamol brand. That would amount to unethical conduct.

In a statement, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) too says: "The code of ethics of the Medical Council does not allow doctors to advertise and most senior doctors in India look upon (such) advertising with suspicion."

MCI’s Pawar says the body’s ethical committee looks into consumer complaints of unethical conduct and takes action within three months. MCI’s ethical regulations add, "Upon receipt of any complaint of professional misconduct, the appropriate medical council would hold an enquiry... If the medical practitioner is found to be guilty of committing professional misconduct, the appropriate medical council may award such punishment as deemed necessary or may direct the removal altogether or for a specified period from the register, the name of the delinquent registered practitioner. Deletion from the register shall be widely publicised in local press as well as in the publications of different medical associations/ societies/ bodies."

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