Prominent Australian doctors have vowed to ban drug company representatives from visiting their clinics to promote new drugs, in a move to curb the inappropriate prescription of medicines.
The alliance of around 50 doctors, called No Advertising Please (Nap), includes drug policy expert Ken Harvey, professor of cancer medicine Martin Tattersall, and evidence-based medicine specialist Chris Del Mar.
They are encouraging more doctors to sign up, saying drug company representatives make inaccurate claims favourable to their products, are less likely to mention the risks, and make non-favourable claims about competitor drugs.
Tattersall said research had shown visits from drug representatives – who provide doctors with lunch in exchange for allowing them to promote their products – lead to doctors prescribing the promoted drugs more often and lower quality prescribing.
“I was involved with a study where we interviewed just over 1,000 patients and asked if they knew what the outside interests of their doctor, for example links to pharma, were,” Tattersall said.
“The thing most notable was that most patients didn’t know, but they wanted to know and believed it would boost their confidence in their doctors.”
Tattersall has previously said patients should tape their consultations with doctors to force them to more carefully consider the drugs and treatments they prescribe, and does so with his own cancer patients.
Research is building on the influence of pharmaceutical companies on drug recommendations made by doctors and researchers. An Australian study released on Tuesday found researchers paid by pharmaceutical companies were more likely to recommend antiviral drugs for flu and produced different recommendations to independent researchers conducting the reviews.
There have also been high-profile scandals of misleading medicine promotion, with the arthritis drug Vioxx recalled in 2004 after it was linked with thousands of heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths, while more recently the blood-thinning medicine, Pradaxa, was linked todeaths and adverse reactions.
Del Mar, a professor of public health at Bond University, said when he stopped accepting visits from drug company representatives he felt “relieved”.
“In my own practice when I started out as a full-time GP, I would see three drug representatives a week,” he said.
“At first I thought it was all quite nice and pleasant, but then I realised I could do much better things with my time, like use it to look up research independently, ask colleagues for advice, and I started a [medical] journal club.
“I think many doctors are reconsidering meeting with drug representatives, and a key reason is there are more compelling things they can do with their time.”
The Consumers Health Forum of Australia welcomed the campaign “as an important sign that doctors’ prescribing decisions are based on best independent evidence”.
“The Nap campaign brings a new and refreshing level of transparency into medical practice,” the group’s chief executive, Adam Stankevicius, said.
“It can only boost the level of trust patients place in their doctors to see a Nap poster in their waiting rooms.”
In July, the Forum criticised proposed new transparency guidelines from Medicines Australia for not going far enough to force doctors to disclose their financial ties to drug companies.
But the chairman of Medicines Australia, Martin Cross, described the campaign as “dangerous and misguided”.
“These campaigners must have very low regard for doctors’ ability to clinically assess and prescribe the most suitable treatment for their patients,” Cross said in a statement. “By barring contact with company representatives, it would be like having open heart surgery knowing that the surgeon hasn’t been taught how to use the equipment by the people that made it.”
He said the role of a drug company representative was to understand and respond to a GP’s needs.
The campaign will officially be launched at the annual conference of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in Adelaide on Saturday