Responding to reports in DNA about unethical practices adopted by pharmaceutical companies to incentivise doctors to promote certain drugs, medical practitioners agreed that the long-term repercussions of such brazen wooing of doctors with gifts and foreign trips could be serious.
“Due to incentives, some doctors start over-prescribing to achieve the targets and the stockist goes out of his way to sell the products. This ultimately affects the customers in terms of high costs and overdosing,” said Dr Suchitra Ramkumar, a medical practitioner and trustee of Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG).
Apart from the fact that doctors’ overzealousness in prescribing drugs could see rising healthcare costs, there is also the issue of medical side-effects. “Over-prescribing may lead to patients going through various physical problems due to side–effects,”said Dr Satyajit Kr Singh MS, Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons(FRCS) and Ex. Lecturer of the Diplomate Institute of Urology (London), who has worked in various countries across the world.
Admitting that the practice of accepting gifts does exist among doctors across the country, Dr BS Garg, president of the Maharashtra Voluntary Heath Association of India (VHAI) working in Wardha, said, “In districts, the doctors and chemists are even more closely interlinked and so by offering incentives to them, the companies are trying to capture the market. All the money which a pharma company invests in buying gifts or offering incentives is ultimately recovered from the customer.”
The World Health Organistaion in a statement to DNA said the uniqueness of the Indian healthcare system is its relatively well-established private healthcare system. “This means that all decisions with regard to patient care are made by individual or a group of doctors, making doctors very important as a client to pharmaceutical companies. Understanding the MCI Code is only part of the compliance programme for pharmaceutical companies.
From a more practical perspective, companies need be aware that anti-corruption compliance is not an additional value to risk management, but an indispensable part of the whole corporate business,” the statement said.
Dean of the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital, Sion, one of Mumbai’s largest civic government-run hospitals, Dr SuleimanMerchant, said there would be no takers if there were no givers. “So if there are strict laws in the country for the gift takers, there should be equally strict laws for Pharma companies too,” he said, mirrorring the opinion of several experts. “Not all are involved in this unethical practice,” he added.
According to the President of the Indian Medical Association (Maharashtra) DrAnil Pachnekar also agreed that doctors often face the repercussions while companies offering these gifts get away. “Pharma companies target doctors with more prescriptive power, be it in cities or smaller towns. The ones who are caught are dealt out punishment, but the pharma companies are left out. The crackdown is only on doctors and companies get away because they have a strong lobby.”