Sophie Black writes:

Why is the president of
the Australian Medical Association protesting against measures that
will force giant pharmaceutical companies to disclose all wining,
dining and other perks to doctors? Dr Mukesh Haikerwal told Crikey this
morning that he wants to see the same standards
apply to doctors as to every other sector of the community. “Why should
doctors be any different? … What’s the expectation? Should we take a
cut lunch?

Dr Haikerwal says the AMA supports the current Medicines Australia code
of conduct but has attacked this week’s new measures announced
by the ACCC because it could discourage
“important learning opportunities for doctors”. Other doctors, meanwhile, are appalled at the AMA’s stance.

“I’m blown away by the AMA response to this,” says Dr Jon Jureidini, the chair of Healthy Skepticism,
“I’d like to see that doctor’s declaration of interests in the
pharmaceutical industry … it’s embarrassing for me as a doctor to
have him speak for me.”

Dr Ken Harvey from the School of
Public Health at La Trobe University told Crikey: “When people see drug
ads flash up on their doctor’s computer screen I think they grow
concerned… but most people are not overall aware of the subtle
influences on the hand that writes the script…”

“Most GPs refuse
to acknowledge that being wined and dined and seeing drug reps
influences their behaviour…but there’s a lot of evidence in scientific
literature that doctors who go out to learn about drugs from companies
tend to prescribe more inappropriately and expensively,” says Harvey.

So is Dr Haikerwal complaining because he doesn’t want to give back his free pens? Not exactly, saysDr
Peter Mansfield, director of Healthy Skepticism. “Dr Haikerwal is
accurately reflecting widespread, honestly held, erroneous beliefs
amongst our profession. I guess he does not realise that his defence of
gifts damages the reputation of our profession.”

“I agree that the excessive stuff is wrong and
that’s what the existing code of conduct is about,” says Dr Haikerwal.

So would Dr Haikerwal be prepared to declare
his gifts? “Well, I’m holding a pen right at this moment, if I look
into my jar I’ve got a pen from pretty much every manufacturer… my pad
has a name on it from a drug company…it’s not going to influence how
I prescribe…”

To back up the AMA’s position, Dr Haikerwal referred Crikey to comments made by Dr Stephen Downes from the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing
at Melbourne’s RMIT University.

Dr Downes is also principal of market
research firm QBrand Consulting and a self described “paid consultant and service provider to
pharmaceutical companies.”

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Peter Fray
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