Sophie Black writes:

There’s some interesting lunchtime reading in a recent New York Times
article for the head of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Mukesh
Haikerwal: “Anyone who thinks there is no such thing as a free lunch
has never visited 3003 New Hyde Park Road, a four-storey medical
building on Long Island, where they are delivered almost every day”,
reports the paper.

When Dr Haikerwal told Crikey last week
that he couldn’t see the problem in pharmaceutical companies throwing
the odd nice lunch for doctors, he asked: “Should we take a cut lunch?”

New Hyde Park might be Dr Haikerwal’s kind of place – in the Times article entitled “Drug Makers Pay for Lunch as They Pitch”, Times author Stephanie Saul explains:

Free lunches like those at the medical building in New Hyde
Park, NY, occur regularly at doctors’ offices nationwide, where
delivery people arrive with lunch for the whole office, ordered and
paid for by drug makers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars
a year…

Doing business over lunch is a common practice in
many fields, but drug makers have honed it to perfection, particularly
since 2002, when the drug industry adopted a new code banning many
other free enticements – golf outings, athletic tickets, trips and
lavish dinners for doctors. The code gives approval to modest meals in
the course of business. And conventional wisdom in both the
pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession is that a lunch is
too small to pose an ethical problem. But a growing number of critics
say that even those small lunches should be banned.

A former pharmaceutical representative, Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau, told the Times
that lunch was “incredibly effective” in lifting pharmaceutical sales
for the companies where she worked, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson
& Johnson. “We got the numbers of what the physicians were
prescribing. If I brought in lunch one week, I could see the following
week if that lunch had an impact,” Slattery-Moschkau said.

And
it turns out nurses and staff members could get particularly tetchy if
the menu wasn’t to their liking –“It was almost a game, and it was
unbelievable the animosity they would show if you did not bring the
right kind of food, or if it was the third time they had pizza that
week,” said Slattery-Moschkau.

Sure beats bringing a cut lunch.

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