Last week, the IFPMA released their new Code of Practice with the aim of encouraging complete integrity and ethical responsibility within the pharmaceutical industry.
We do not want anything to even potentially suggest that we are trying to get between the healthcare professional and the patient at the time of the prescription decision.
— Melissa Barnes, chair of the Ethics and Business Integrity Committee (eBIC) at IFPMA & senior vice president for Enterprise and Risk Management and chief ethics and compliance officer, Eli Lilly and Company.
One of the main features of the new Code is a global ban on gifts and promotional aids for prescription medicines. This ostensibly outdated act of sales reps giving out tickets for conferences, paid holidays and branded leave-behind gifts to incentivise the sale of their products is mostly eradicated in Europe and the US but is still going on in some parts of the world.
Although, it was only in 2013 that a whistle-blower working for GlaxoSmithKline anonymously tipped authorities about fraud and corruption inside its operation in China. It was found that the company was bribing doctors to buy their drugs and funnelling money — 3bn yuan ($378m) — through travel agencies, as well as offering gifts.
The fallout of the scandal cost the UK company $500 million in fines to the Chinese authorities and a loss in sales and credibility. GSK is still suffering regular consequences for their unethical actions that also impacted the industries already shaky public view.
While these examples of bribery are glaring, it is clear that other arguably harmless acts of gifting branded items such as pens, notebooks and post-it notes must be outlined in order to provide complete clarity to companies as what is deemed as ethical, responsible and professional.
“Those kinds of materials do not really further or facilitate the education and the important exchange of expertise that should happen between medical representatives from our industry and healthcare professionals,” Melissa Barnes, Chair of Ethics and Business Integrity Committee (eBIC) at IFPMA told us in an interview alongside the associations director general, Thomas Cueni.
“From a reputation and perception standpoint, stopping the exchange of these items was important as it was being seen to trivialise the intended interaction between the medical rep and healthcare professional,” she continued.
In the past exceptions or waivers were made for customary or condolence gifts that are traditional in parts of Asia.
Barnes explained that “while those are small, the industry is now at the point where we do not want anything to even potentially suggest that we are trying to get between the healthcare professional and the patient at the time of the prescription decision.”
The IFPMA has received some criticism from stakeholders saying that the Code is “too strict” and that it could put certain companies at a disadvantage, especially those that are not members of the IFPMA.
To this Cueni said; “when one looks at patient expectations and rule-setting from governments, companies that misstep will, sooner or later, be called to order. The research-based industry is expected to lead. It is important that the message is clear and uncompromising: this is the way to go.”