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April 11, 2011

Survey Shows Physicians Have High Regards for Industry Interactions

Sales Rep 
Over the past several years, a number of media sources and so-called “investigative journalists” have published stories suggesting that the partnerships physicians have with the pharmaceutical and medical device industry are suspect of bias or conflicts of interest.  Much of the news coverage on physician-industry relationships is one sided and only discusses the potential harm than can arise from conflicts of interest.  However, the benefits of such collaboration are rarely discussed or examined.  

Partnerships and relationships that physician’s and industry share have been mutually beneficial for the medical profession and for industry for many years.  Most important by far are the benefits that have accrued to patients who have gained access to more effective, safer, and easier to take medicines; vastly improved monitoring and imaging; faster and more precise diagnostics; and better prosthetics and surgical devices.  Industry-physician collaboration gives health care practitioners the tools, information, training, and data to transform their clinical practices and behaviors to improve patient outcomes. 

Consequently, a recent telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 508 American Medical Association (AMA) physicians, conducted by KRC Research, confirmed the benefits of physician-industry collaboration.  Specifically, the “Survey of Physicians About Pharmaceutical and Biotech Research Company Activities” and Information found that “8 out of 10 physicians view pharmaceutical research companies and their sales representatives as useful sources of information on prescription medicines.”  

The survey, which was supported by PhRMA, included 42% of physicians in primary care, with the remaining 58% in a number of different specialties.  As described below, the survey measured a number of areas involving industry-physician collaboration, including continuing medical education (CME). 

General Findings 

Most health care practitioners (HCPs) said that pharmaceutical and biotech companies (industry) make a positive contribution to healthcare quality.  This includes doctors (97%), nurses (97%), pharmacists (95%), and Hospitals (90%). 

Most doctors value industry research activities.  Specifically, 94% of participants valued clinical trials to research and develop new treatments, 93% valued the information industry provides about new prescription drug treatments, 89% valued industry providing grants to support CME, 88% valued industry providing research grants to doctors, hospitals, and medical schools, and 81% valued industry sponsoring educational programs featuring physician speakers (not CME). 

Additionally, 74% said that industry always or often provides information about drug interactions, side effects and contraindications.  Clearly, this information is valuable to physicians because 61% said they always or usually learn about new indications for medications and treatments and 60% learn about potential side effects of medicines from the new information they are given by industry. 

Moreover, 55% said they always or usually learn about emerging benefits and risks about medications and treatments from the new information industry provides.  64%

said that industry always or often provides information about the latest drugs and treatments, including information about clinical trials and new research studies.  Also:

  • 68% said that industry always or often provide information about assistance programs for patients without prescription coverage
  • 64% said that industry always or often provide information to give patients
  • 63% said that industry always or often answer or find out the answers to specific questions that the health care practitioner (HCP) has.
  • Most accept drug samples and say they serve a variety of important uses.

94% said they strongly or somewhat agreed that information from pharmaceutical company representatives is up-to-date, 92% useful and 84% reliable.  Participant’s overwhelmingly indicated that programs and interactions offer an opportunity to learn new information and provide feedback.  In addition, more than 8 in 10 said they feel positive about the contribution pharmaceutical and biotech research companies make to healthcare quality—30% have a very positive feeling.

Supported Continuing Medical Education

According to the survey, pharmaceutical company-sponsored educational programs are well attended and most attendees said the information provided is up-to-date, useful, and reliable.  76% of participants said they attended an industry sponsored education program.

  • About 9 in 10 attendees say information provided at educational programs is up-to-date and timely, useful, and reliable.
  • More than half of attendees say they often gain knowledge or skills helpful in their practice.
  • Those who practice in rural areas (86%) are especially likely to attend.

94% said CME was very useful or somewhat useful to stay informed about medications to treat particular conditions.  With respect to the educational value of industry sponsored programs:

  • 59% of attendees always or usually gain improved clinical knowledge
  • 63% of attendees always or usually learn about potential side effects of medicines
  • 54% of attendees always or usually gain knowledge of new uses for medicines
  • 58% of attendees always or usually improve knowledge of the range of treatment options
  • 54% of attendees always or usually add knowledge about emerging drug risks
  • 50% of attendees always or usually strengthen ability to care for patients 

Discussion 

The findings from this survey clearly show that “most physicians recognize and value contributions made by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, but they do not use this information in isolation.”  In other words, doctors consider information to treat patients with from a number of sources, not just from industry. 

The value provided by industry is well understood by physicians surveyed, with 91% saying there has been progress in treating disease with prescription medications over the decade—48% said a lot.  Additionally, more than 9 in 10 said at least some progress has been made in treating disease with Rx meds—nearly half say a lot.  Another important finding is that just under 70 percent said they use information from industry when making clinical decisions.  Without the information provided by industry, a significant number of physicians would be faced with less truthful and valuable information about a certain drug or treatment.  This is particularly true for physicians in rural areas who may find it difficult to attend professional conferences or CME courses. 

Conclusion 

Ultimately, the data from the survey “emphasizes the value of interactions between biopharmaceutical company representatives and healthcare providers. This value is reinforced by PhRMA's Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals, which seeks to ensure that biopharmaceutical company engagement with providers is professional, ethical, and educational – and, ultimately, helps to give physicians some of the tools they need to give their patients the best care possible

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