Only 1 in 3 medical schools have policies to prevent conflicts of interest between their academic departments and the drug or medical device companies that may fund individual researchers. Only 6 U.S. medical schools are completely free from the “influence” of pharmaceutical kickbacks. While universities as private institutions set their own rules on ethics and proprieties, government can regulate medical professionals and health care.
Now Minnesota is leading the way in banning drug company gifts to doctors. In 2005, a state official decided that current law allowed the state to forbid drug makers from giving doctors more than $50 worth of food or other gifts per year. Since then, this kind of direct-to-doctor marketing has decreased, with the number of visits from drug reps declining twice as fast as the rate nationwide.
Other states are following suit and Congress is considering a nationwide ban. What’s driving them all are the studies that find that our health care choices are highly shaped by the access big drug companies have to our doctors. Only 1 in 5 office-based doctors refuse to see drug, biotech, or medical device sales reps.
Globally, the U.S. is almost on par with third world countries where drug companies not only wine and dine doctors but also bribe them with big-ticket items like major appliances and cars in order to get them to prescribe their company’s drugs.
Stateside, these drug reps may soon have to get in line behind insurance companies. According to the Wall St. Journal, U.S. insurers are getting in the game with their own physician incentives: to switch patients from brand-name drugs to cheaper generic medications.