Minnesota is one of the few states that passed a law requiring drug makers to disclose any payments given to doctors and the New York Times today reported on these records going back to 1997.

Doctors said their lectures about drugs to other doctors in return for the payments were gentle marketing pitches that adhered strictly to messages approved by drug makers and federal drug regulators.
Drug companies “want somebody who can manipulate in a very subtle way,” said Dr. Frederick R. Taylor, a headache specialist in Minneapolis who earned more than $710,000 between 1997 and 2005, much of that from GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of the migraine drug Imitrex.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said interactions between drug companies and doctors were beneficial. “In the end, patients are well-served when technically trained pharmaceutical research company representatives work with health care professionals to make sure medicines are used properly,” he said.

There is nothing illegal about doctors’ accepting money for marketing talks, and professional organizations have largely ignored the issue.

But research shows that doctors who have close relationships with drug makers tend to prescribe more, newer and pricier drugs — whether or not they are in the best interests of patients.

“When honest human beings have a vested stake in seeing the world in a particular way, they’re incapable of objectivity and independence,” said Max H. Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School. “A doctor who represents a pharmaceutical company will tend to see the data in a slightly more positive light and as a result will overprescribe that company’s drugs.”

We know that doctors deal with drug reps on a very regular basis, the average doctor interacts with 28 different sales reps each week! Everyone has a right to know if their doctor is accepting any gifts or payments from drug reps. Much more transparency is needed to shine a light on this practice–a practice shown to affect a doctor’s prescribing decisions.