Can the relationship between doctors and drug companies ever be a healthy one?

July 21, 2009

Should the financial ties between doctors and drug companies be completely cut, or are healthy alliances between the two possible with the common aim of improving human health? A debate in this week's PLoS Medicine discusses whether the influence of drug company money on doctors is always a corrupting one.

The relationship between doctors and has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years, with some commentators arguing that the public health mission of doctors is incompatible with the pharmaceutical industry motive to maximize profits for shareholders. Emma D'Arcy - the co-founder of, an international networking site that allows and the pharmaceutical industry to communicate in a transparent way - disagrees that relationship is fundamentally incompatible.

She suggests that "authentic alliances" between doctors and the drug industry can be formed with the common aim of improving human health and safe and effective medicines. Pointing out that the drug industry remains an important source of funding for scientific meetings and continuing medical education, she outlines three ways in which healthy collaboration can be encouraged without needing to further regulate the industry. These include: teaching medical professionals to distinguish between clinical information and promotional material; ensuring transparency from both parties through networking sites such as; and encouraging industry and doctors to follow an "everyday credo" to make sure interactions ultimately benefit the care of people living with disease and further medical scientific understanding.

Ray Moynihan of the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, argues that transparency is not enough to ensure that physicians' prescribing behaviour is not distorted by pharmaceutical influence. He cites evidence collected on the site of the non-profit group Healthy Skepticism (, including a systematic review demonstrating that studies sponsored by pharmaceutical companies were more likely to have outcomes favouring their sponsor, and calls for the medical profession to disentangle itself completely from the money it accepts from the pharmaceutical industry.

He highlights the case of pharmaceutical industry distortion of continuing medical education, in particular the ability of doctors to gain professional credits and company sponsored events. Giving examples of education for doctors in Australia where sponsors have even determined topics and speakers for seminars, he concludes that there should be a complete ban on all industry funding of continuing medical education, whether direct or indirect. Complete disentanglement is a healthier alternative, argues Moynihan, and strategies such as the American Medical Student Associations "PharmFree" campaign, which has advocated the severing of financial ties, prefigure "a future where fewer doctors will be prescribing under the influence of industry."

More information: D'Arcy E, Moynihan R (2009) Can the Relationship between Doctors and Drug Companies Ever Be a Healthy One? PLoS Med 6(7): e1000075. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000075

Source: Public Library of Science (news : web)

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not rated yet Jul 21, 2009
As long as profit is involved, health will NEVER be priority number one. Even with the most noble intentions, concerns for profit will always bear an influence. ALL ADVERTISING AND MARKETING (and other forms of 'pushing') SHOULD BE BANNED. It should be the FDA's role to rank drugs and desiminate that ranking to doctors for guidance. The drug cos should NOT be allowed to go out and sell to doctors and the public. Doctors should be the ones to 'come to' the drug co. IT IS A FACT, that a significant portion of US's health problems is unnecessary drug use (its side affects and cost). Higher federal budgeting is needed to the development (and trials) of drugs and treatments that represent inadequate profit potential to drug cos, and therefore are gov't funded programs, and would otherwise be ignored even if they are superior to drugs and treatements with higher profit potential. And of course drug cos shouls NOT be allowed to fund education or in any other way influence doctors' choices or attitudes or inclinations. Indeed the entire western medical model seems to be based on a 'drug first' attitude which has not come about because it works best, but because it PAYS. That HUGE elephant in the room is what is in great need of total reform.

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