We interrupt our regular light-hearted banter to share something important. This article was in our Sunday Paper and I think it needs to be posted here, too. The more people who are aware of this situation, the better...
IN MY OPINION
Time to opt out of drug freebies'
By JOSEPH IRWIN Special to the Sunday News
I am a family physician practicing medicine in Ephrata. I begin this letter with an apology to all of my patients for my complacency with the excessive marketing practices of the pharmaceutical companies. Although I have been concerned about the infiltration of pharmaceutical companies in my practice for quite some time, I admit that, until now, I had not given the issue the time and attention it deserves.
I joined a practice eight years ago, which, like many other medical practices, received certain "perks" from pharmaceutical company representatives, aka the "drug rep."
From the moment the drug reps walk into a practice, they are loaded up with medicine samples (which actually help patients and which I will continue to accept), but also with pens, paper, clocks, staplers, hand sanitizers, paper-clip holders, stuffed animals, mouse pads, tissue boxes, magnets ... you get the idea.
One of the favorite perks is the "drug lunch." In the back room away from patients, the drug reps lavish me and my staff with a gourmet lunch. But there is no free lunch in life. During this lunch, my prescribing practices (which the drug reps already know because the pharmacies sell my prescription patterns to them for considerable sums) are analyzed and every effort is made to refute a competing medicine (one that I might prescribe more frequently).
During this meal, there is little unbiased information presented by the reps.Their job is to get their drug sold. The more prescriptions they get in their territory, the better they do for themselves. (I have no animosity for them; they are simply doing their jobs. It is the flawed marketing system that I dislike.)
I am in one of the few businesses where, due to the power of the prescription pad, I am a commodity. There is no doubt that my business overhead is lowered because the pharmaceutical companies hope to sway my prescribing habits with these "gifts." It is argued that these items are of nominal value and of no consequence. I argue that they are part of a pervasive and wasteful marketing campaign by multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies who are focusing too much of their time and money on their marketing departments and too little on their research departments.
This marketing phenomenon is clearly illustrated by the explosion of television and magazine advertisements for different drugs. The public is bombarded by ads urging them to "ask their doctor if drug X maybe right for them." The ads are expensive and do little to advance and improve health care. Pharmaceutical companies have developed a group of "me too drugs," drugs that treat the same ailments with the same efficacy. By marketing these "me too drugs" aggressively to the public, these companies hope to create consumer preference, like the choice of Coke over Pepsi. Unfortunately, medicine is life-sustaining. It is a necessity, not a commodity. It must be treated differently than other consumer goods.
I have patients who face exorbitant bills for medications they need to keep them healthy. They are often faced with impossible choices: medicine or rent, medicine or food. The excessive and unnecessary marketing by pharmaceutical companies directly contributes to the skyrocketing prescription costs. This has to stop. The cost of medications to my patients, to all Americans, needs to be reduced now. I call on the pharmaceutical companies to stop spending billions on marketing and to fund research instead. I call on physicians to stop this relentless infiltration of "freebies" into your,practices.
So again, to all my patients, I apologize. I have taken steps to remedy the situation. My overhead costs will increase but it is the right thing to do.
Joseph Irwin, M.D., is a physician in Trout Run Family Practice, Ephrata, PA.