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Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice
payments made to them. In addition, new consulting agreements with physicians would require the physicians to agree to reveal the arrangement to their patients. For the 18-month period that they were in place, the deferred prosecution agreements provided that each company must undertake an assessment of its reasonable needs for educational consulting services and new product development consultants. They also provided for a federal monitor at each company to review compliance for all new and existing consulting relationships with the companies.
Academic Detailing and Other Prescriber Outreach Strategies
As one alternative to physician reliance on company sales representatives for information, “academic detailing” incorporates techniques that pharmaceutical company representatives use. Programs may use in-person visits to physicians by a clinical pharmacist or physician, provide educational materials and branded items, and offer individualized feedback on performance. The goal is to reduce inappropriate prescribing of targeted drugs, for example, inappropriate antibiotics and less effective vasodilators and analgesics. Randomized controlled trials have shown that such educational interventions are effective and have not found adverse clinical consequences (see, e.g., Soumerai and Avorn , Solomon et al. , van Eijk et al. , and Simon et al. ; but see also Lu et al. ). These trials support other studies that suggest that the techniques that pharmaceutical company representatives commonly use are indeed effective in changing physician prescribing behavior.
Some states, including Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Vermont, have initiated programs using such academic detailing. Pennsylvania’s program has an operating budget of approximately $1 million per year, which funds about 1,000 detailing visits by a paid staff (Reck, 2008). Members of the U.S. Congress have proposed the creation of a federal program that would “provide grants or contracts for prescription drug education and outreach for healthcare providers and their patients” (HR 6752, July 31, 2008).
As described in this chapter, relationships between physicians in practice and drug and medical product companies are extensive and have prompted a range of responses from professional societies, government officials, and others. The environment of community medical practice presents challenges different from those posed in academic and research settings. In particular, physicians in community practice often have weaker ties with institutions than academic physicians and a greater degree of autonomy. In addition,