How Pharmaceutical Companies Entice Doctors into Prescribing Expensive Medication

16 April 2016
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Written by the doctors and public health advocates Arun Gadre and Abhay Shukla, Dissenting Diagnosis is based on a study conducted at Support for Advocacy and Training to Health Initiatives, a Pune-based non-governmental organisation. During the course of this study, Gadre and Shukla interviewed 78 doctors from across the nation in an effort to confront what they consider is an ongoing crisis of the medical profession: doctors, they write in their introduction to the book, are finding “their traditions of ‘keep patients foremost’ rapidly buried under the ruthless logic of ‘keep profits foremost.’” Gadre and Shukla discussed with these medical professionals issues such as lack of regularisation in the private sector, unlawful and unethical practices routinely followed by doctors, the influence of pharmaceutical companies, the state of medical education, and the possibility of a universal healthcare system.

In the following excerpt from the book, interviewees speak to the writers about the hold of the pharmaceutical companies over the medicines prescribed by doctors. They describe how, through offers of gifts and benefits, aggressive marketing and sheer persistence, representatives from pharmaceutical companies routinely entice doctors into prescribing expensive and often unnecessary medicines to their patients. The pharmaceutical companies, one of the doctors said, are "like a pack of wolves."

“Some of my doctor friends boast to me that they have travelled the world, sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. One was telling me with pride that even their shirts, pants, vests and underwear are given by pharmaceutical companies!” says an ophthalmologist from a medium-sized city.

Dr Suchitra, a general practitioner in Chennai, mentions, “The pharmaceutical companies offered to sponsor me for a conference, but I refused. I usually prescribe generic medicines or cheap, branded medicines. But the interesting thing is that once these pharmaceutical companies realized I don’t prescribe their medicines, they stopped visiting me.”

“I have been practising for thirty years. I have not given any ‘cuts,’” a super-specialist from a metropolis shares. “I did not encourage pharmaceutical companies. I change the medicines prescribed to my patients, prescribing cheaper medicines if expensive medicines have been prescribed. And what a big difference this makes to the patient! Sometimes the cost is reduced as much as Rs 35–40 per tablet! Patients are often unnecessarily prescribed expensive brands of medicines, for years on end, sometimes for life. The hapless patient keeps taking these medicines.

Arun Gadre is a gynaecologist. He practised in a drought-prone area of rural Maharashtra for twenty years, and is the co-ordinator of Support for Advocacy and Training to Health Intitiatives (SATHI), a Pune-based NGO.

Abhay Shukla is a public health physician and has worked on health issues in Maharashtra for two decades. He is a senior programme coordinator with SATHI, Pune, and is a member of advisory bodies for the National Rural Health Mission and the National Human Rights Commission.

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