A consumer-advocacy group has launched a national campaign to try to reduce conflicts of interest between doctors and the pharmaceutical companies that ply their physician-customers with everything from boxfuls of drug samples to free lunches and generous lecture fees. The Community Catalyst, a Boston-based not-for-profit group, said the two-year long Prescription Project, funded by a $6 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, will attempt to raise awareness of these conflicts and encourage physicians to use evidenced-based systems when they prescribe drugs to patients.
Community Catalyst will work with the Institute on Medicine as a Profession, a think tank at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, to demonstrate how these close financial connections affect quality and costs in healthcare. Drug companies spend about $12 billion a year on marketing efforts to doctors, and national spending on prescription drugsrising at a rate double that of other health servicesis nearing $200 billion a year.
Although new medical drugs and devices are revolutionizing the practice of healthcare and improving quality of life, said Robert Restuccia, executive director of the Prescription Project, America has a prescription drug problem: The prescribing practices of doctors are being influenced by billions of dollars in direct-to-physician marketing.
The kick-off of the project comes one year after a hard-hitting report in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that marketing incentives such as cash, gifts and free samples pose extraordinary challenges to the principles of medical professionalism. That study, which called for the medical community to reject any freebies from drug companies, was funded in part by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession. -- by Michael Romano