For greater transparency in the relationship between physicians and the pharmaceutical companies, does India need an Act like, proposed ‘The Physician Payment Sunshine Act’ of the USA?

As we discussed earlier, to make the pharmaceutical companies disclose and report various types of payments made to the physicians, two Senators of the United States of America, Chuck Grassley and Herb Kohl introduced a bill called ‘The Physician Payment Sunshine Act’ in January, 2009.If this bill is passed in 2010, the government will make available to the public by 2011 all types of payments made to the physicians by the pharmaceutical companies over a cumulative value of US $ 100.Items of disclosure:

Among various other heads, the following items related to the “payment made to the physicians’’ will require to be reported:

• Consulting Fees

• Compensation for services other than consulting

• Honoraria

• Gifts

• Entertainment

• Food

• Travel

• Education

• Research

• Charitable Contributions

• Royalties or licenses

• Current or prospective ownership or investment interests

• Compensation for serving as a faculty member or as a speaker for a continuing medical education program

• Grant

• Reporting will be required for compensation towards serving as faculty, or as a speaker for a CME program, and grants.

• Any other nature of the payment or other transfer of value as defined by the government

Research payments:

Pharmaceutical companies will also require reporting aggregate amounts of research payments in a specified manner.

Items exempt from disclosure:

There will be items, as mentioned below, which will be exempted from such reporting:

• Product samples

• Payments in the aggregate of less than $100

• The loan of a device for less than 90 days

• Patient education materials

• Warranty replacements (devices)

• Items for use as a patient

• Discounts and rebates

• In-kind items used in charity care

• Dividends from a publicly-traded company

Penalties for default from disclosure:

Proposed penalties have been categorized as follows:

• For unintentional failure to report: fines from US $1,000 – US $10,000 for each payment not reported with a cap of US $150,000/year

• For intentional failure to report: fines from US $10,000 – US $100,000 for each payment not reported with a cap of US $1 million/year.

World Medical Association (WMA) Statement Concerning the Relationship Between Physicians and Commercial Enterprises:

Meanwhile, WMA is also trying to address this vexing issue and coming closer to some sort of voluntary disclosure at their end, as well.

Such type of statement was first adopted by the WMA in its General Assembly at Tokyo, Japan in October 2004. Recently in its General Assembly held at New Delhi in October 2009, the statement was further amended coming closer to the disclosure of payments.
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The preamble of the amended statement articulates the following:

“In the treatment of their patients, physicians use drugs, instruments, diagnostic tools, equipment and materials developed and produced by commercial enterprises. Industry possesses resources to finance expensive research and development programmes, for which the knowledge and experience of physicians are essential. Moreover, industry support enables the furtherance of medical research, scientific conferences and continuing medical education that can be of benefit to patients and the entire health care system. The combination of financial resources and product knowledge contributed by industry and the medical knowledge possessed by physicians enables the development of new diagnostic procedures, drugs, therapies, and treatments and can lead to great advances in medicine.

However, conflicts of interest between commercial enterprises and physicians occur that can affect the care of patients and the reputation of the medical profession. The duty of the physician is to objectively evaluate what is best for the patient, while commercial enterprises are expected to bring profit to owners by selling their own products and competing for customers. Commercial considerations can affect the physician’s objectivity, especially if the physician is in any way dependent on the enterprise.

Rather than forbidding any relationships between physicians and industry, it is preferable to establish guidelines for such relationships. These guidelines must incorporate the key principles of disclosure, avoidance of obvious conflicts of interest and the physician’s clinical autonomy to act in the best interests of patients.
These guidelines should serve as the basis for the review of existing guidelines and the development of any future guidelines.”

This new statement of the WMA, having a remarkable similarity with the ‘Codes of marketing Practices’ of the pharmaceutical industry associations in India, like Organization of pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) and Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA) is indeed a welcome step in the right direction.

Conclusion:

Along with the self regulation initiatives by both the industry and WMA, this bill, if passed, will surely and significantly improve the transparency related to the transaction between the pharmaceutical companies and the physicians to the public at large in the US to start with. However, bringing research within the ambit of this bill could possibly be a contentious issue.

Be that as it may, in India a large section of the civil society still feels that it is now high time for the Government of India to decide whether the nation needs an Act like the proposed ‘Physician Payment Sunshine Act’ of the US to bring in greater transparency in the process of various financial transactions between the pharmaceutical industry in India and the physicians, along with the continuing initiatives of self-regulations by both the industry and the physicians.

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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