New Perspective on Pharma- Physician interaction

Despite ever increasing regulations, and even though some institutions and medical societies have adopted policies that limit or ban such practices, new research shows that most physicians and doctors-in-training still have a positive attitude toward the marketing activities of pharmaceutical companies.

According to the study published in the June Archives of Surgery 72% of surveyed doctors and medical students said sponsored lunches were appropriate. Nearly 60% said samples improve care for their patients, and 71% said pharmaceutical and device company money is useful for funding residency programs.

Additionally, the majority of doctors thought that educational material supplied by pharma (68.8%) and device (78.5%) companies was a useful way to learn about new products.

There were limits, though. About 3:4 respondents believed gifts valuing more than $50 were unacceptable and almost all thought vacations were inappropriate.

The study authors polled almost 600 faculty and medical trainees at 11 New York City hospitals that have banned or limited the interaction between physicians and industry.

Some difference was seen between different physician groups. Surgeons were more likely to have a positive attitude toward industry. They believed that gifts, such as residency funding and travel reimbursement for attending lectures, are acceptable. Pediatricians held less favorable attitudes.

Interestingly, 73.2% of physicians thought that their institution should allow physician-pharma interaction while almost the same number (72.7%) strongly believe that their prescribing was not influenced by industry marketing practices.

Clearly, not all physician-industry interactions are created equal. While politicians and regulators would have physicians shun all contact with the pharmaceutical and device industries, many doctors believe such relationships are healthy and beneficial.

Before regulators rushed to reduce conflict-of-interest, maybe they should have talked to the very people most impacted by the rules.  Word on Health is not surprised that doctors take umbrage at the suggestion that a pen or a sandwich paid for by industry might affect their judgment. The public demonization of financial relationships between physicians and industry, although widespread, is not supported by any conclusive evidence.

Despite this, relationships continue to be investigated and regulations become more rigorous. Are they too much or too little?  We’d love to hear your views on this. Please leave a comment below.

Better health care on offer but you’d better beat the crowd

Landmark health reforms will not only bring health care to the uninsured, they will bring more patients to doctors.  Lots more patients.  Forty-six million of them, all vying to find a Primary Care Physician (PCP).

In some parts of the country PCP’s are already in short supply, so the newly insured will be an extra strain on an already overstretched system.

Recently published reports predict a shortfall of roughly 40,000 PCP’s over the next decade. Not enough doctors are going into family medicine these days.  In fact, less than 30% of U.S. doctors practice primary care. The better pay, better hours and higher profile of other specialties are proving too much of a lure.

“It’s going to be harder to get appointments to see a physician” predicts Dr. Sam Benjamin, host of “Primary Care” on News/Talk 92-3 KTAR.

Provisions in the new health care bill aim to reverse this tide by offering bonus payments to those physicians prepared to expand community health services and offer them in areas where the greatest shortfalls exist.

The new law also puts emphasis on wellness care over sickness care, with policies that encourage physicians to try novel programs such as “patient-centered medical homes.”

Pilot tests of medical homes, through the American Academy of Family Physicians and Medicare, are under way around the country.  Initial results suggest they can improve quality but it’s not clear if they save money.

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, Word on Health welcomes your suggestions on how to solve the problem of too many patients and too few doctors.  Winning answers will be hand delivered to a large white building, just down the road.