The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which represents research-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, has adopted a voluntary Code to address interactions between PhRMA's members and health care professionals with respect to marketed products.
The Code comes on the heels of the Department of Justice's six-year investigation of the marketing practices of TAP Pharmaceuticals, whose practices allegedly encouraged doctors to prescribe the prostate cancer drug Lupron. The resolution of the investigation includes a payment by TAP to the government of approximately $875 million.
The cornerstone of the Code is that "relationships with healthcare professionals are intended to benefit patients and to enhance the practice of medicine." For example, since golf balls and sports bags, even if of minimal value, do not primarily benefit patients and are not primarily associated with the health care professional's practice, such items should not be provided. Similarly, the Code advises that items intended for the provider's personal benefit should not be offered.
Drug industry representatives are also advised that, when conducting an informational presentation, occasional meals (but no entertainment or recreational events) may be offered to health care professionals so long as the meals are modest and occur in a venue and manner conducive to the communication of information that provides scientific or educational value. However, the Code cautions that the inclusion of a professional's spouse or other guests, as well as the offering of "take-out" meals (so called "dine and dash" programs), are not appropriate.
While the Code recognizes that the financial support of continuing medical education for health care professionals can contribute to the improvement of patient care, the Code suggests that such support (1) be given directly to a conference's sponsor, as opposed to a participant, and (2) be given without the pharmaceutical company's control over the content of the conference.
Although voluntary, PhRMA is encouraging each of its member companies to adhere to the Code. Doctors should also note that the AMA has adopted a set of guidelines on this same subject, which are available at www.ama-assn.org.