July 15, 2007 in Nation/World

Congress eyes gifts to doctors

Rob Hotakainen McClatchy
 

WASHINGTON – Congress is considering a plan that would require doctors to disclose the free trips, meals and drugs they receive from drug makers.

At a recent Senate hearing, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told the story of how doctors were routinely wined and dined at her brother’s restaurant in Springfield, Mo.

“He said the most lucrative part of their business was the private room that was reserved by the pharmaceutical companies four nights a week,” she said. “And the wine consumed was unbelievably expensive, the dinners were unbelievably expensive.”

Amid fears that the medical judgment of doctors is being compromised, McCaskill and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., are proposing a national gift registry for doctors, where physicians would be forced to report their freebies.

The drug industry opposes the plan, saying it has its own voluntary ethics code. Opponents of the registry also say that drug samples are aimed at helping patients, not doctors. And they argue that it’s important for the drug industry to stay in close contact with doctors to keep them up to date on the latest drugs.

Minnesota and Vermont already have passed registry laws, but critics say they have not gone far enough. Proponents of a registry say it would help patients understand the oftentimes cozy relationships between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry.

“If it becomes a public record, it will have a cleansing effect on what I think is an insidious practice,” McCaskill said in an interview.

Jerome Kassirer, professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, said medical meetings for doctors have become “mini-circuses, replete with enormous glittering displays and hovering attractive personnel.” And he said many of the marketing efforts are “thinly disguised bribes” that are couched as education.

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