Ethical Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices: ‘Self-Regulation’…’Voluntary Physician Payments Disclosure’…What’s next?

Over a period of time, many stakeholders of the pharmaceutical industry and the public at large have been raising the issue of physicians being influenced in their prescription decisions by various types of payments made to them by the pharmaceutical companies. Such types of significant and seemingly avoidable expenditures, considered by the respective companies as a part of their ‘marketing costs’, are believed to be included in the maximum retail price (MRP) of medicines making them more expensive to the patients.On the other hand, most physicians believe that free entertainment, gifts, their travel costs and seminar sponsorships in no way influence their prescription decision for a patients.This issue is not India specific. It is indeed a global issue.

Self regulation by the industry is considered to be the name of the game:

To address this issue effectively, international pharmaceutical associations, like International Federation of Pharmaceuticals Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) have come out with their own codes of ethical marketing practices with appropriate stakeholder grievance redressal mechanism to respond to stakeholder complaints, effectively.

In India, pharmaceutical industry association like Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) and Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA) have also formulated their own codes of ethical marketing practices.

Despite all these, it is indeed an undeniable fact that the perception and the allegation of the stakeholders including the general public towards the pharmaceutical industry, in general, have not changed much.

The government intervened in India:

Being alarmed by various media reports on the current pharmaceutical marketing (mal) practices scenario, the Department of Pharmaceutical (DoP) convened a meeting of the pharmaceutical Industry on the subject this year and advised the pharmaceutical industry to develop a ‘Uniform Code of Marketing Practices (UCMP)’, which will be applicable to the entire pharmaceutical industry in India.

‘Uniform Codes of Marketing Practices (UCMP)’:

It is believed that the UCMP is in its final stages of release along with its stakeholder grievance redressal mechanism in a transparent procedural format. Everybody expects that all stakeholders will help maintaining the sanctity of the UCMP to address this sensitive global and local issue effectively.

A new trend of public disclosure of ‘payments to the physicians’ by the global pharmaceutical companies:

Around third quarter of 2008, in an industry first step, Eli Lilly announced its intent of full disclosure of payments that the company made to the physicians for various commercial reasons. Eli Lilly indicated disclosure of payments of more than US $500 to the physicians for advice and speaking at the seminars. Over a period of time, the company indicated that it will expand such disclosure to include other forms of payments to the physicians like gifts, various entertainment and travel.

Eli Lilly was soon followed in this direction by global pharmaceutical majors like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Skepticism with such voluntary disclosure will still exist:

Many are still skeptical about such ‘voluntary disclosure of payment to the physicians’ announcements by the global pharmaceutical majors to bring in better transparency in the functioning of the industry. They believe that there are hundreds and thousands of pharmaceutical companies who will not follow such precedence of voluntary disclosure in the absence of any properly enforced regulation.


‘Self-regulation of pharmaceutical marketing practices’ and ‘voluntary disclosure of payment to the physicians’ by some pharmaceutical companies are laudable steps to address this problem. However, the moot question still remains: are all these enough?

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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