Physicians-Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives Interactions and Conflict of Interest: Challenges and Solutions.
Inquiry. 2016 ;53. Epub 2016 Sep 16. PMID: 27637269
Avinash R Patwardhan
Physician-industry relationships have come a long way since serious debates began after a 1990 Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources report on the topic. On one side, the Sun Shine Act of 2007, now a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that mandates disclosure of payments and gifts to the physicians, has injected more transparency into the relationships, and on the other side, numerous voluntary self-regulation guidelines have been instituted to protect patients. However, despite these commendable efforts, problem persists. Taking the specific case of physician-pharmaceutical sales representative (PSR) interactions, also called as detailing, where the PSRs lobby physicians to prescribe their brand drugs while bringing them gifts on the side, an August 2016 article concluded that gifts as small as $20 are associated with higher prescribing rates. A close examination reveals the intricacies of the relationships. Though PSRs ultimately want to push their drugs, more than gifts, they also bring the ready-made synthesized knowledge about the drugs, something the busy physicians, starving for time to read the literature themselves, find hard to let go. Conscientious physicians are not unaware of the marketing tactics. And yet, physicians too are humans. It is also the nature of their job that requires an innate cognitive dissonance to be functional in medical practice, a trait that sometimes works against them in case of PSR interactions. Besides, PSRs too follow the dictates of the shareholders of their companies. Therefore, if they try to influence physicians using social psychology, it is a job they are asked to do. The complexity of relationships creates conundrums that are hard to tackle. This commentary examines various dimensions of these relationships. In the end, a few suggestions are offered as a way forward.