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Pharmaceutical giant phases out payments to doctors

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Multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will phase out payments to doctors and other health care professionals to speak at or attend medical conferences.

The payments will be phased out over the next two years as part of wider changes to the company’s global sales and marketing practices.

GSK also announced that, by the start of 2015, its sales people in Australia will no longer be compensated based on individual sales targets.

The changes come in the wake of a move by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last year to give drug companies two years to comply with a more stringent set of rules regarding the transparency of payments and sponsorships provided to doctors.

GSK General Manager Australia Pharmaceuticals, Geoff McDonald, said the company’s announcement introduced some of the most significant changes to marketing and sales practices in the industry for some time.

“This builds on the work we have been doing to be more transparent and increase trust in our industry,” Mr McDonald said.

“In Australia there is widespread community expectation of increased transparency in commercial relationships between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals, especially in the way our sales employees operate.

“These changes will give greater confidence to the community that our interactions are focused on patient needs.”

In a statement, GSK said it would move to end the practice of paying doctors and health care professionals to speak on its behalf about its products or disease areas to audiences who can prescribe, or can influence prescribing.

It would also stop providing financial support directly to individual doctors to attend medical conferences.

Instead, the company would fund education for doctors through “unsolicited, independent educational grant routes”.

The company said it intends to work through the practical details of the changes with doctors, medical organisations and patient interest groups to define how they can be implemented effectively and in line with local laws and regulations.

The consultation will begin early this year, with the aim that the changes to be in place across GSK’s global business by the start of 2016.

GSK said it would continue to provide appropriate fees to doctors for services related to GSK-sponsored clinical research, advisory activities and market research. The company has committed to disclose the payments it makes to doctors and health care professionals worldwide, and already does so in Australia.

The AMA has supported moves to increase transparency, including reporting of aggregate payments made by drug companies to sponsor health professionals to attend and speak at conferences, as well as to compensate doctors who provide advisory or consulting services.

Last year it called for an interim $500 threshold on the public disclosure of pharmaceutical company payments to individual practitioners.

In its submission to Medicines Australia on a proposed reporting model for industry payments, the Association urged that modest threshold limits be adopted to minimise the administrative burden on industry and practitioners while satisfying public interest in the disclosure of substantive payments.

In its submission, the AMA recommended that all payments and benefits worth more than $25 should be recorded, while the threshold for public disclosure should be set at $500 or more.

Debra Vermeer