Selling Sickness 2013

who can we trust?

A new study just published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine involving Canadian, US and French physicians shows that the majority of family doctors receive little or no information about a drug’s harmful side effects by the pharmaceutical sales reps. The study found that in nearly 60 per cent of promotional visits to the doctors office, the drug reps failed to provide any information about common or serious side-effects of the promoted drug, and also failed to inform doctors about the types of patients who should not use the drug.

This is frightening news for patients. If our doctors are being kept in the dark about harmful side effects, who can we trust? Clearly, this study is revealing and we need a better system for educating our doctors. They shouldn’t be educated by the pharmaceutical sales reps who have financial gain in promoting the benefits of their products. Maybe it’s time for academic detailing? I (KW) have personally been involved in testifying on the state level in Minnesota and Wisconsin promoting academic detailing legislation.

Just yesterday I saw a TV commercial promoting Cymbalta for lower back pain.  Its advertising message was “Imagine a day with less pain.” The only thing I could imagine was the # of people flocking to their doctors offices asking about this drug. I wonder, however, how many will be told that Cymbalta is actually an antidepressant that carries a serious black box warning for suicidality and other psychiatric side effects. According to this study, it’s very unlikely that the sales reps offered up this information to the doctors.

Who pays the price for this lack of disclosure? We do. If the doctors are unaware of the potential harms from the drugs they prescribe, patients inevitably suffer the consequences.

It’s time for a new system. Patients and doctors deserve better.

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