To restore patients’ confidence MCI has amended its regulations… to strengthen it further will the government consider an Indian version of ‘Physician Payment Sunshine Act’?

In today’s India, blatant commercialization of the noble healthcare services has reached its nadir, as it were, sacrificing the ethics and etiquettes both in medical and pharmaceutical marketing practices at the altar of unlimited greed. As a result of fast degradation of ethical standards and most of the noble values supposed to be deeply rooted in the healthcare space, the patients in general are losing faith and trust both on the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry, by and large. Health related multifaceted compulsions do not allow them, either to avoid such a situation or even raise a strong voice of protest.

Growing discontentment – a stark reality:

Growing discontentment of the patients in the critical area of both private and public healthcare in the country, is being regularly and very rightly highlighted by the media to encourage or rather pressurize all concerned to arrest this moral and ethical decay and reverse the evil trend, without further delay, with some tangible regulatory measures.

A laudable move by the MCI:

In such a situation, recent steps taken by the ‘Medical Council of India (MCI)’ deserves kudos from all corners. It is now up to the medical profession to properly abide by the new regulations on their professional conduct, etiquette and ethics. The pharmaceutical industry of India should also be a party towards conformance of such regulations, may be albeit indirectly.

No room for ambiguity:

Ambiguity, if any, in the MCI regulations, which has been recently announced in the official gazette, may be addressed through appropriate amendments, in case such action is considered necessary by the experts group and the Ministry of Health. Till then all concerned must ensure its strict compliance… for patients’ sake. The amended MCI regulations are only for the doctors and their professional bodies. Thus it is up to the practicing doctors to religiously follow these regulations without forgetting the ‘Hippocrates oath’ that they had taken while accepting their professional degree to serve the ailing patients. If these regulations are implemented properly, the medical profession, I reckon, could win back their past glory and the trust of the patients, as their will be much lesser possibility for the patients to get financially squeezed by some unscrupulous elements in this predominantly noble profession.

What is happening in the global pharmaceutical industry?

Just like in India, a public debate has started since quite some time in the US, as well, on allegedly huge sum of money being paid by the pharmaceutical companies to the physicians on various items including free drug samples, professional advice, speaking in seminars, reimbursement of their traveling and entertainment expenses etc. All these, many believe, are done to adversely influence their rational prescription decisions for the patients.

Raging ongoing debate on the financial relationship between industry and the medical profession:

As the financial relationship between the pharmaceutical companies and the physicians are getting increasingly dragged into the public debate, it appears that there is a good possibility of making disclosure of all such payments made to the physicians by the pharmaceutical companies’ mandatory by the Obama administration, as a part of the new US healthcare reform process.

Exemplary voluntary measures taken by large global pharmaceutical majors:

Eli Lilly, the first pharmaceutical company to announce such disclosure voluntarily around September 2008, has already uploaded its physician payment details on its website. US pharmaceutical major Merck has also followed suit and so are Pfizer and GSK. However, the effective date of their first disclosure details is not yet known. Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic and the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania, US are also in the process of disclosing details of payments made by the Pharmaceutical companies to their research personnel and the physicians. Similarly in the U.K the Royal College of Physicians has been recently reported to have called for a ban on gifts to the physicians and support to medical training, by the pharmaceutical companies. Very recently the states like Minnesota, New York and New Jersey in the US disclosed their intent to bring in somewhat MCI like regulations for the practicing physicians of those states.

Conclusion:

Currently in the US, both in Senate and the House of Congress two draft bills on ‘The Physician Payment Sunshine Act’ are pending. It appears quite likely that Obama Administration, with the help of this new law, will make the disclosure of payments to physicians by the pharmaceutical companies mandatory. If President Obama’s administration takes such regulatory steps, will India prefer to remain much behind? The new MCI regulations together with such disclosure by the pharmaceutical companies, if and when it comes, could make the financial transactional relationship between the physicians and the pharmaceutical industry squeaky clean and totally transparent.

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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