Feature Drug marketing

Can India stop drug companies giving gifts to doctors?

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f2635 (Published 29 April 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2635
  1. Rupali Mukherjee, assistant editor, The Times of India, Mumbai
  1. mukherjee.rupali{at}gmail.com

Doctors’ prescribing should be based on evidence of what is best for patients rather than commercial influences. Rupali Mukherjee asks whether India’s moves to regulate some types of pharma marketing will improve the situation

Big pharma continues to dole out gifts to doctors as lavish as cars and televisions and to pay for international trips despite voluntary strictures and government censure. “There is no let-up in this evil practice and the pharma companies continue to sponsor foreign trips of many doctors and shower with high value gifts like air conditioners, cars, music systems, gold chains, etc to obliging prescribers who then prescribe costlier drugs as quid pro quo,” said a 2010 report from the parliamentary standing committee on health and family welfare.1 Such promotions are deemed unethical because they represent covert advertising that has been shown to distort prescribing practice, influencing patients’ treatment. Doctors who accept gifts from drug companies, meet pharma representatives, and use their information are more likely to prescribe more expensive drugs.2

Regulating relationships between doctors and pharma

Such marketing has attracted attention in recent years, denting the reputation of drug companies and doctors and exposing India’s weak regulation, spurring the government and the doctors’ regulator to try to regulate the doctor-pharma nexus better.3

In January the Medical Council of India (MCI), urged all doctors registered under the MCI Act to prescribe generic medicines “as far as possible” and to ensure rational prescribing of drugs. The circular, reminding doctors of regulations issued in 2002, was issued to principals of medical colleges, directors of hospitals, and presidents …

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