I eat lunch with drug company representatives and I’m proud of it

Today, I want to review another article I wrote in last year.  That article started with a confession: “I confessed that I ate lunch with a representative of a pharmaceutical company.”

I must now confess that I often eat lunch with representatives of pharmaceutical companies and I’m proud of it.  At this stage of my career, I can well afford my own lunch.  I could sit quietly and relax over a cup of decaf and a salad.  I could spend a little downtime with my wife and staff, but I don’t.  Recently, I stressed my need to learn as much as I can, in the limited time I have, in order to stay current with the most up to date diagnostic and treatment options.

So, I take business lunches with representatives from Pharma, medical equipment companies, home healthcare providers, and other practitioners whose knowledge helps me be a better doc.  Make no mistake.  These are business lunches and bring value to both myself and my patients in the form of knowledge and medicinal samples.

In 2012, the Sunshine Act goes into effect.  Last year, I wrote:

In an effort to disparage my profession, the government has passed the Sunshine Act.  They are going to publish, on the internet, the names of doctors who dine with drug reps.  The inference is that the pharmaceutical companies are buying my business.  The inference is that doctors are cheap whores and will sell out their patients for a pad of paper, a pen with a product name on it (both now banned by law) or a lunch (still legal).

Our government will start collecting data on more than just lunches.  While no one knows exactly what their intent is, most physicians are afraid of this law and the innuendo that physicians are doing something wrong when they accept patient samples, patient educational materials, lunches, and speaker fees. (When I teach physicians on behalf of a pharmaceutical company, I am paid for my time and expertise.)

Rumors abound and even suggest that your physician will be taxed on the samples he/she dispenses to his/her patient.  I fear that the Sunshine Act will be the end of pharmaceutical reps, patient samples, and lunch time educational programs.  What a shame.

It is interesting that the same congressional leaders who freely take campaign contributions from big business, who lunch at pricey restaurants with lobbyists, and who take trips sponsored by those seeking favor, passed this act.  The year 2012 signals the end of business as usual for my profession.

I will continue to lunch and learn for as long as Pharma and others wish to teach me about their wares.  I will be proud to see my name on web sites listing the dollar values of my lunches and speaker’s fee.  I believe my business lunches are time well spent.  I will continue to accept samples on behalf of my patients.

I will also enjoy quiet lunches with my wife and staff when The Sunshine Act finally destroys Pharma’s ability to put reps in the field.  Unfortunately, my reps will soon be unemployed.  My patients will no longer be able to obtain samples.  Restaurants who thrived on delivering lunches to docs’ office will suffer.  Congressional leaders will congratulate themselves and then go to lunch with the lobbyists from XYZ Heath Insurance Corp and it will be business as usual for everyone except the medical profession.

Stewart Segal is a family physician who blogs at Livewellthy.org.

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