Amidst all the public angst about politicians accepting trips and other gifts, these practices continue unabated amongst the medical profession, despite strong evidence that such largesse can influence patient care.

About 100 dermatologists are expected to attend a meeting at The Westin in Melbourne this weekend, titled “Raising Expectations in Dermatology 2009”, sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough.

The registration form, which has the logo of one of the company’s products displayed prominently on the front page, notes that flights and accommodation will be provided for interstate delegates.

At least one senior dermatologist, Dr Chris Commens, was so concerned by this offer that he sought advice as to whether it contravenes the NSW Medical Board’s Code of Professional Conduct.

Dr Commens told Crikey that he had been advised that such an offer would constitute a material gift when made to a participant who was not presenting at the conference and would thus breach the code.

“I am worried that some attendees from some states may be accepting sponsorship that would be considered unacceptable by their state medical boards,” he said.

“Medical practitioners are generally empathic and are likely to unconsciously reciprocate hospitality. The drug companies would hope this would play out as increased prescribing of their products.”

A spokeswoman for Schering-Plough said the conference program and arrangements complied with the industry body Medicines Australia code of conduct. She was not aware of any medical board codes of conduct that might be relevant to the meeting. But she did note that some of the specialists had wanted to pay their own way.

All of which suggests there may be some conflict between the expectations of Medicines Australia when it comes to drug companies and the expectations of some medical boards when it comes to doctors.

Medicines Australia chief executive Ian Chalmers told Crikey this morning that he was not aware of any concerns by medical boards about companies meeting doctors’ expenses to attend educational events, but would investigate further.

“This would create a precedent,” he said.

“We would expect that the medical profession would be most concerned that such a decision would overtly bias against rural and regional doctors.

“Australia is a very big country and we don’t allow the tyranny of distance to limit access to appropriate educational events.”

Meanwhile, several more doctors have been added to the Crikey Register of Influence for their role in helping pharmaceutical promotions.

They include: Associate Professor Peter Holmes, respiratory physician, Monash Medical Centre; Associate Professor Matthew Peters, Concord Repatriation Hospital, Sydney; Dr George Proimos, cardiologist, Austin Hospital, Melbourne; Melbourne GP Dr Gary Kilove, and Associate Professor John Amerena, cardiologist, Geelong Hospital.

Cricketer Ricky Ponting also joins the register, for his role in this campaign for Swisse vitamins. The company, in turns, supports the Ponting Foundation, established by Rianna and Ricky Ponting to raise money for children with cancer and their families and to fund research into children’s cancer.

Perhaps someone should tell the Pontings about the ever-growing number of trials suggesting that antioxidant vitamins are not only a waste of money, but may even be harmful.

Some researchers have suggested that the widespread use of antioxidant supplements may be contributing to many premature deaths. No wonder the promoters are calling in high-profile sports stars for help.