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GSK explains decision to halt payments to doctors

pharmafile | January 8, 2016 | News story | Medical Communications, Sales and Marketing GSK, doctor payments, medical education, transparency 

GSK has put into practice its pledge to halt payments to doctors to promote its products at medical seminars – a move which the British drugmaker believes rival companies will eventually be forced to replicate.

The new policy, which began on 1 January, is the firm’s response to pressures over a potential conflict of interest due to persistent concerns that healthcare professionals (HCPs) are influenced to prescribe and recommend drugs in return for speaker fees and other financial payments totalling tens of millions of pounds per year.

The change in policy, first announced in 2013, can in part be viewed as a reaction to a scandal that involved the company’s business in China, and saw GSK fined $490m following allegations that it bribed doctors to promote its drugs, as well as charges in the US that the company bribed doctors to prescribe potentially dangerous antidepressants to children. GSK settled the latter for $3 billion in 2012.

GSK’s chief medical officer, Murray Stewart, explains: “We recognise a growing concern that the way the industry currently provides information and education to HCPs may be perceived to inappropriately influence prescribing decisions.”

He adds: “We believe the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and HCPs relationship is fundamental to the progress of medical science and to help meet patient and public health needs. This is why we have committed to changing the way we work with doctors and HCPs.”

Last January, GSK changed the way it rewarded its salespeople, who are no longer given individual sales targets, but instead judged on their technical knowledge and the quality of the service their deliver to HCPs.

This year, the company is bringing in additional changes, including taking what it calls an ‘arm’s length approach’ to travel and supporting HCP attendance at medical and scientific congresses. Instead of paying doctors directly to attend, independent third parties will now decide who receives funding to attend such events, and GSK says it will have no influence over which doctors receive sponsorship.

Perhaps most strikingly, GSK is phasing out payments to HCPs to speak about its prescription drugs. Instead, it says, it will develop new digital, personal and real-time applications – such as webinars – to improve its delivery of information to HCPs, increasing the availability of its expert medical doctors to talk with and answer questions about GSK medicines with their peers.

Stewart says: “(GSK’s doctors) are the experts on the medicines that we have spent years developing, and will be responsible for providing the right information to support safe and effective use. We are investing significantly in developing our global medical organisation to ensure that we have the capacity and expertise to support HCPs.” 

The company will continue to support HCP education with information on disease, diagnosis and treatment, but says it will change its approach, so the decision about funding for educational programmes will be made by independent organisations. Doctors will still be paid to take part in clinical research.

Stewart concludes: “These changes are significant but we are committed to transforming our business model so that patients are at the heart of every decision we take.”

Joel Levy

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