The American Medical Association is on the right track in establishing ethical guidelines for doctors routinely ambushed by myriad drug companies hawking their products. But the AMA is dead wrong to have drug companies pay for the lion's share of its educational campaign on ethics.
The goal of the organization - to inform medical students as well as practicing physicians and drug company sales representatives of acceptable perameters for professional conduct - is a good one. The line of integrity has been crossed too often in the past in the relationship between drug companies and doctors who are treated to expensive gifts, dinners, trips, and other perks by companies who hope such fawning will encourage physicians to prescribe their drugs.
The AMA is spending $1 million to educate medical professionals about its ground rules for dealing with pharmaceutical companies. They permit company funding of educational conferences for doctors but not the acceptance of gifts of more than minimal value from sales reps. But the AMA has accepted a combined total of roughly $675,000 from nine large drug companies to foot most of the bill for its ethics campaign.
A former president of the group sees nothing untoward with accepting the companies' contributions. “The idea that somehow that money is tainted is not accurate in my view,” said Alan Nelson, who is also a special advisor to the American College of Physicians. Could Mr. Nelson be so blind to the conflicting appearance of the pharmaceutical industry funding a prescription drug ethics campaign for doctors?
Does he not see the offer of drug companies to generously finance an AMA program as a prime example of what the medical association aims to discourage? What kind of credibility can the AMA have when it says one thing about rejecting excessive gift-giving by drug companies and does another to offset its costs?
It is a bad precedent to set with the drug manufacturing industry, which is already too cozy with the medical profession. Consider this: it spent almost $4 billion of an estimated $16 billion in marketing dollars last year to promote an ever-expanding line of prescription drugs to doctors in their offices.