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Countering the Drug Salesman

Published: March 20, 2008

A potentially useful antidote to drug company influence over the prescribing practices of doctors is under consideration in Congress. The idea is to have government-funded health professionals visit doctors to give unbiased guidance on the safety and effectiveness of drugs to counter the one-sided sales pitches they get from pharmaceutical company representatives. The end result should be better care, quite often at lower cost.

Objective information on drugs has already been shown to affect prescribing practices in various locations in this country and abroad, according to testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging last week. In a Pennsylvania project, for example, experts from Harvard Medical School prepared educational materials and trained pharmacists and nurses to deliver it, enhancing medical care and saving more than $500,000 a year on gastrointestinal drugs alone in a pharmacy assistance program for low-income senior citizens. Total savings to public and private health insurance programs were surely much higher.

Similar physician-education programs are being established in several other states and have been set up in Australia, England, the Netherlands and several Canadian provinces. The Kaiser Permanente medical system has educated its own doctors on drug issues for years.

Now Senators Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, and Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, are planning to introduce legislation that would authorize federal grants to prepare educational materials and train health professionals to conduct visits to prescribing physicians. Their hope is that the program would pay for itself by lowering drug costs to federal programs.

With comprehensive, unbiased information, doctors should be more likely to prescribe the best drug for a patient, not necessarily the newest, high-priced drug that is being pushed by a drug company sales representative.


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