This is encouraging.  It should become regular practice in all medical institutions.  Giving doctors gifts influences their judgment and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship. 

From The Daily Pennsylvanian

By David Kanter, April 11, 2008

Medical institutions should follow HUP’s lead and prevent drug reps from influencing doctors with gifts

When you grow up in a medical professional’s home, you kind of get used to the fact that every pen and notepad is emblazoned with the name of a drug company or one of its high-priced prescription drugs.In my house, Pfizer always provided more pens than Bic.

But if this drug company “swag” blends so nicely into the scenery, why do drug companies continue to spend big bucks to ensure that every doctor in this country has his or her complimentary stress ball?

The answer is simple. Whether it’s because of unintended gratitude from recipients or any other type of unconscious conditioning, doctors who receive freebies tend to prescribe the drugs advertised on those products more often than other medicines.

“There is no doubt that doctors are influenced,” Arthur Caplan, director of the Penn Center for Bioethics, told me. “Drug companies wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.”

Penn’s Hospital, however, is leading the way when it comes to limiting the influence drug companies have on our medical professionals.

A few years back, HUP implemented a stringent policy to address “pharmaceutical company representative activity.” Doctors and other medical professionals could no longer receive gifts of any kind and drug reps had to abide by strict on-site protocol.

Now government officials are getting on the bandwagon. Last month on Capitol Hill, two senators proposed a plan to reduce the influence drug companies have on doctors, and in my home state of Massachusetts, the legislature is considering a statewide policy to restrict drug rep access to medical professionals.

It’s apparent that these legislators – like officials at HUP – have recognized that objectivity is essential to the doctor-patient relationship. The patient trusts his doctor to always look out for his or her best interest. Although no doctor would ever purposely harm a patient, we need to be assured that doctors are doing everything in their power to help their patients. When doctors are more likely to prescribe a certain drug because of the freebies they get, they just might have passed over an alternative drug better suited for a particular patient.

Caplan stressed that such a policy is especially important because HUP is an academic medical center. Without the influence of pesky drug reps promoting their company’s latest drug, young doctors quickly learn to consult objective medical literature rather than rely on ads for information.

There’s a counterargument here, however, that says drug reps provide doctors with information that helps them make informed decisions.

But Patrick Brennan, HUP’s chief medical officer pointed out to me that if this were truly the case, the relationship between drug reps and doctors would hold up even when freebies were banned.

The fact that they haven’t indicates that the relationship holds “no medical or scientific merit.”

We should also bear in mind the issue of costs. Drug companies are in it for the money, and they know what they’re doing.

Every dollar spent on marketing products to doctors promotes the bottom line. It’s only natural then that drug companies want to promote their most expensive drugs and provide meals and other kickbacks to doctors in order to do so. But the more appropriate drug – the one that gets passed over – might just be less expensive.

Before I get ahead of myself, it’s necessary to point out that like all improvements to the status quo, this one isn’t a panacea. “It’s not like the marketing campaigns are going away,” Caplan told me. The drug companies are inventive and will find alternative ways to influence our doctors.

But there’s a reason other academic medical institutions, like Vanderbilt, have recently followed HUP’s lead. In promoting the patient’s interest and potentially cutting costs, HUP’s policy was a big step in the right direction.

Now that the ball’s rolling and it’s picking up speed – more and more hospitals across the country are implementing similar policies.

We should encourage them to do so. Bribery really has no place in our hospitals.