I worked for a couple of years as a “medical representative” in the UK for what was then a leading manufacturer. I was their first pharmacist appointed to such an august role. It soon became apparent to me that a significant proportion of the company’s literature was deliberately inaccurate or misleading, or both.

My “beat” was the London Teaching Hospitals and Harley Street. Many of the quotes on the company’s literature came from papers published in the learned medical journals by the consultants I had [almost] daily contact with and they were quick to point of the errors of my presentations to them — a salutary exercise, I assure you.

I recall that, when our company dropped from first to second in the nation in sterling sales (nothing to do with the company, just that the “competitor” introduced a much needed drug), the European head honcho decided to double our sales force in an attempt to win back the top spot.

In answer to the inevitable question about “diluting” the quality of our sales force, he told us that if you throw sh-t on the wall some is bound to stick. I am sure much has changed in the pharmaceutical industry since, even if profitability surely hasn’t. I went on to do some work in my professional association — much more satisfying.

I have long held the view that the only way to reform the industry is to create a national body (of the integrity of the PBS Committee prior to Howard fiddling with its structure) to assess all claims for efficacy presented by the companies.

Further, it should be responsible for keeping a database of each product’s properties in relation to the relevant disease together with known side-effects and any contraindications. Each product’s info statement (similar to the poisons document that appears with each agricultural product now sold) should be in the same format. The database should be available to doctors online. It follows that all contact between doctors in their surgeries and the companies (including direct medical representation) would cease.

A pipe dream, I know!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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