Glaxo Announces Plan to Stop Paying Doctors to Push Drugs

By Allison McCabe 12/19/13

The drug giant has paid $3 billion in fines and also faces bribery charges in China, but company execs deny this has anything to do with making the modest change.

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GlaxoSmithKline, one of the biggest drug manufacturers in the world, is ending its controversial practice of paying doctors to push its products. It will also stop compensating sales representatives based on the number of prescriptions that are written by the doctors to whom they sell the drugs.

This unprecedented move comes in the wake of the pharmaceutical giant having to pay $3 billion in fines for marketing drugs for off label uses. GlaxoSmithKline is also dealing with a bribery investigation in China, where authorities are accusing the drug maker of paying doctors and government officials to push Glaxo products. Andrew Witty, Glaxo’s chief executive, denies that this change in policy has anything to do with the situation in China, and instead is part of an ongoing effort “to try and make sure we stay in step with how the world is changing.”

Part of the way the world is changing is due to the Affordable Care Act. Starting in 2014, any payments made to doctors by pharmaceutical companies will become public. As a result of this pending development, other pharmaceutical companies are considering instituting similar changes. Pratap Khedkar, who is in charge of the pharmaceutical practice at ZS Associates, notes that the new requirements will make all such payments searchable on a government database. While some of the information was voluntarily provided by drug makers in the past, “It wasn’t really made public in some big, splashy way,” he said.

Glaxo’s move has received praise from Dr. Jerry Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School. “It’s a modest acknowledgment of the fact that learning from a doctor who is paid by a drug company to give a talk about its products isn’t the best way for doctors to learn about those products,” Dr. Avorn said.

Dr. Raed Dweik, of the Cleveland Clinic, applauds Glaxo’s decision to stop paying sales representatives based on the number of prescriptions written, and hopes that the other drug makers will follow their example. “As a physician, I periodically meet with these sales reps and they usually come in armed with information about me that I don’t even know…I feel that’s not really a comfortable interaction to have,” he said.

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Allison McCabe is the editor in chief of The Fix. She has written for LA Weekly, Village Voice, Junk: a literary fix, Ramshackle Review, Main Street Journal and others. Follow Allison on Twitter.