Information Exchange

Interactions Don't Equal Influence

12.16.13 | By

PhRMA Pushes Back on New York Times

Expectations have never been greater for the scientific community to deliver cutting edge treatments and cures. At the same time, the primary source of these pioneering medicines – the biopharmaceutical research sector – is criticized for sharing information about medicines with others within the healthcare sector who can help ensure that the best medicines make it to the patients in need. This incompatible demand for the best medicine with limited or no company interaction with physicians and patients  is the wrong way to improve our nation's health care.

A New York Times story that appeared on Sunday embodies this misplaced perception. In the inflammatory article, interactions between the biopharmaceutical sector and pretty much everyone else – from physicians to patients and advocacy groups – are portrayed as uniformly wrong. This perpetuates a false reality that hurts future medical innovation. In trying to back his hypothesis, the reporter cherry-picked pieces of information to build his case. Let's look at a more complete picture. 

Interactions with Health Care Professionals

From conducting clinical trials to participating in company-sponsored peer-to-peer speaker programs to relaying patient experiences with medicines back to company scientists, interactions between physicians and biopharmaceutical companies are critical to better medicines and better health. And this work is also governed by FDAregulations and codes of responsibility for both the industry and health care providers.

Biopharmaceutical companies fully embrace responsible and ethical interactions with health care professionals, as evidenced by PhRMA’s Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals, first introduced in 2002 and strengthened in 2008, as well as companies’ support of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act.  These companies also have extensive policies, procedures and training in place to foster compliance with PhRMA’s Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals. Companies annually certify that they have policies and procedures in place to foster compliance with the PhRMA code.  Corrective actions are taken by companies when appropriate.

While information about new treatments and the risks and benefits of medicines provided by biopharmaceutical professionals is a critical source of information for physicians, it is only one of many sources of information that physicians use to make choices about patient care.  Studies show many factors influence prescribing decisions.  For example, a recent KRC Research survey sponsored by PhRMA found that by far the most important factors affecting prescribing decisions are a physician’s clinical knowledge and experience and the patient’s unique situation. It should also be noted that the majority of prescriptions filled in the U.S. –over 80 percent – are generic medicines.

Partners for Healthy Dialogues contains a lot of useful information on the types of collaborations between biopharmaceutical and health care professionals – I encourage you to check it out to see how these collaborations improve medicines and health. 

Interactions with Consumers

Many studies have demonstrated that direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising informs patients potentially suffering from undiagnosed conditions, raises awareness of treatment options and benefits the U.S. healthcare system by encouraging patients to seek medical attention that may help manage conditions and avoid the need for costly hospitalization or surgery.

Prevention Magazine’s 2012 survey found that 71% of people agree that DTC advertisements “allow people to be more involved with their healthcare” and 75% believe that DTC ads are useful because they “tell people about new treatments.” Prevention’s survey also showed that DTC provides patients with information about the risks as well as benefits of medicines.

Using some outdated information, the New York Times article left the impression that many ads are misleading. Today’s reality: since 2009, PhRMA member companies complying with PhRMA’s Guiding Principles on DTC Advertising have voluntarily exceeded the legal requirements regarding submitting advertisements to FDA for review. In fact, the vast majority of biopharmaceutical research manufacturers, including the signatories of PhRMA’s Guiding Principles on DTC Advertisements, voluntarily submit their television ads to FDA for review prior to airing.  If an advertisement is in violation of regulations, the FDA can go to court to prevent it from running or require that the violating promotion be stopped. It can also require a remedial campaign to correct any misimpressions that may have been left by an advertisement.

PhRMA's principles are intended to help improve the ways that our companies communicate with patients about medicines that, if prescribed by their physicians and used appropriately, can improve and save lives. They’re simply another source of information to help consumers play an active role in their health care and to discuss their health concerns with their physicians.

Whether it’s DTC advertising or talking with a physician, interactions with biopharmaceutical companies should not be discredited or perceived by unbalanced reporting as bad for patients. So long as guidelines such as those currently in place continue to provide for FDA review and appropriate transparency, the very real health and scientific benefits to collaboration should be lauded, not discouraged. Interactions foster informed conversations about health, disease and treatments between patients and their health care practitioners, and can increase the likelihood that patients will receive appropriate care for conditions. 

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