Strict Law to Curb Physician Gifts

Aug 12, 2008

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick last weekend signed a law requiring pharmaceutical companies to disclose all gifts to physicians totaling more than $50, and encouraged the development of a code of conduct for sales reps. While some say that the new law might be the nation's strictest restrictions on gifts, experts in the rep-training field were more surprised that it took this long for these types of laws to come into effect.

Suzanne Burrell, vice president of Total Learning Concepts, told Pharm Exec that the Massachusetts law was less shocking than the code of conduct enacted by PHRMA in 2002.

"Before 2002, reps were allowed to pump gas for doctors if they gave them a few minutes to talk about their message; or reps would have meetings where they gabbed for half a day," Burrell said. "The change has been more about being a partner, so these new laws will not be much of a detriment. It's more about tightening the rules a little bit."

Ken Begasse of Concentric said that from a training perspective, pharma is going to have to take into consideration the local and regional pockets in the healthcare systems, and the restrictions in those particular areas. "I look at managed care as being there already in terms of getting the sales force to understand the local nuances between different states, the way most of the prescribers have to do with the insurers," said Begasse. "This is another step in making the sales force more of a resource and less a promotional vehicle."

Nancy Beesley, executive vice president of HC&B Healthcare Communications, said the law's intent is to keep the doctor's decision-making ability intact and free from coercion, but worries that the actual impact may be different. "If this policy spreads nationwide, it will mean big shift for companies that use gifts as leave-behinds for their doctors on sales calls to help build relationships," Beesley said. "Unfortunately, it's a gray area, and while I believe pens shouldn't be punished the same way as Super Bowl tickets, the law makes it all the same."

Orlando Ceaser, former senior director of diversity for AstraZeneca, has seen this kind of crackdown for years, and considers the Massachusetts law it more of the same. "You go places like Wisconsin, which has stringent rules, and some of the large managed care plans wouldn't even let you see doctors, or just [see them] at a particular time of day," Ceasar said. "Another plan said that you couldn't see any doctors at any time."

And that's the biggest fear for industry right now. According to Burrell, Massachusetts is taking a look at not allowing reps in at all, which she feels could affect the overall US economy.

"At the end of the day, doctors have to have access to quality information about new products, how they interact with current products, and what's up and coming in the disease states that they are treating," Burrell said. "The best way to do that is through having relationships with sales reps."