When Pharmaceutical Companies Staff Doctors as Pitch People

A long tradition is for drugmakers to use doctors as pitchmen and speakers, extolling the virtues of the company and whatever new series of drugs they have developed. Other doctors and medical groups find it credible when one of their own speaks out in behalf of a new drug or company n at the various conclaves and meetings. the industry, if you will, where pharma companies hire doctors as their advocates, is big stuff for theindustry and mutually beneficial to the drugmakers and the physicians alike.

However, all is not without speed bumps in River City. An article in FiercePharma cites a recent Pro Publica report concerning doctor-industry relationships. As a result of the report, the drug companies will be conducting increased background checks on the doctors who serve as their pitch people. The Pro Public report, I love Pro Publica, found that more than 250 company-paid doctors had been sanctioned for misconduct. The doctors were cited for such violations as prescribing excessive or unnecessary medications, and making serious medical errors. Seventy of them had been sanctioned multiple times, and 21 of them had repeated violations on their records. This for me is hardly stunning, as I have reviewed a number of Pro Publica reports where various healthcare personnel were being staffed despite their having criminal records and a quantity of disciplinary actions against them.

This rather stark and seemingly surprising introduction to reality has caused such pharmaceutical mainstays as Eli Lilly, Astra Zeneca, and Merck to put the physicians they hire under better scrutiny. Lilly intends to hire a third party service to conduct its background checks. Astra Zeneca wants to figure out how it can best obtain records of state disciplinary actions. As these companies have a lot to lose by putting the wrong physicians before prospective clients and groups of interest, conducting background checks is highly advisable. In fact, besides conducting criminal records, the drugmakers would be well advised to conduct the FACIS search, which incorporates both the OIG/GSA with more than 1,300 reporting agencies in fifty states who are responsible for disciplinary actions against healthcare workers. This type of search is required by hospitals and health institutions as part of their healthcare sanctions employment screening compliance program, so then why not the drug companies?

I must say with so much at stake, it is pretty remarkable the larger pharma companies have thus far operated on good faith in belief their pitch-doctors were without any potentially embarrassing behavior. Given all that is at stake in the drug industry, the huge amount of money that is on the line, it would seem that the few bucks spent for background checks would go a long way to relieving potentially sleepless nights.

I guess not.


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