Will banning drug company sponsorship harm patients?

Often times, when something is banned, unintended consequences ensue.

And when it comes to industry sponsorship, including free drug samples and pharmaceutical sponsorship of CME, it’s no exception.

In a recent piece, it’s no secret that I’ve thought that doctors continue to be influenced by industry sponsorship. To combat this, there are various forces that advocate banning drug company sponsorship of continuing medical education courses, eliminating free samples, and removing industry presence from medical schools.

But, what are the consequences of doing so? As the ACP’s Bob Doherty writes, “If industry support for CME was to be prohibited, I wonder where the money would come from to allow internists to continue to have access to CME at a price they can afford.” Indeed, it’s likely that patients will be the ultimate ones that will end up paying.

Mr. Doherty also touches upon the issues of free drug samples. Yes, it’s universally recognized as a marketing tool, but many of the poor and uninsured rely on samples to manage their chronic diseases. Although a vast majority of drug classes are available generically, or at Wal-Mart for $4, some aren’t. And as this family physician writes, “doctors and other health care providers [have] to be put in a position where you’re damned if you do – and patients die if you don’t.”

As always, the issue isn’t always clear. Banning drug company involvement appears to be a moral ideal, but at what cost?

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