July 10, 2010

Docs want rules relook - Practical guidelines sought

A section of doctors has called on India’s apex medical regulator to develop “rational and easy-to-follow” rules to replace the blanket ban announced last year on physicians accepting cash, gifts, travel or hospitality benefits from pharmaceutical companies.

The Medical Council of India (MCI) had introduced the ban last year amid widespread concerns even within the medical community that incentives from drug companies to doctors were influencing prescription patterns and hurting patient care.

The MCI had specified that any doctor who accepts an incentive worth more than Rs 1,000 would be liable for punishment.

The rules had drawn criticism with doctors pointing out that it would be difficult to enforce. Critics have also argued that most travel funding from the drug industry goes into supporting continuing medical education.

“The guidelines must be transparent and implementable,” said Sanjeev Bagai, a senior consultant pediatrician at the Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre, New Delhi, speaking at a panel discussion on medical ethics here. “Personal gifts have tainted the medical profession — but (support for) continuing medical education, research and training is important,” he said.

“Doctors need to regulate themselves — determine for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Ashok Seth, president of the Cardiology Society of India, New Delhi, and a consultant at the Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.

“Family jaunts, exorbitant gifts, travel to exotic locations, and incentives to influence research are sins,” Seth said. “There is a need to protect patients from biased medical practices that emerge under the influence of such sins.”

However, Seth said, the pharmaceutical industry resources may also help improve patient care.

Doctors sponsored by the industry may learn new technologies and disseminate them to other doctors through continued medical education courses.

The head of the new governing board of the MCI on Thursday indicated that the issue posed a challenge to regulators. “In the US, doctors have to pay on their own to attend continuing medical education courses,” said Shiv Kumar Sarin, the head of the six-member panel governing the MCI, at the seminar. “Are doctors in India ready to do this?” he asked.

Link: Original Article

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