Saturday, August 25, 2007

PharmedOUT Attacks Pharma Promotions, but Lacks Fair Balance

Pharmed OUT Attacks Pharma Promotions, but Lacks Fair Balance
PharmedOut ( is an independent, publicly funded project that "empowers physicians to identify and counter inappropriate pharmaceutical promotion practices.".  It covers everything from topics like "Psychological techniques reps use to sell drugs," to recommending that CME should go pharma free.  It also links out to YouTube! to showcase videos that cover topics like "The Art of Medical Writing" and "Zyprexa Rep Tells All".  
According to their Website, PharmedOut is funded through the Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education grant program.  This grant was created as part of a 2004 settlement between Warner-Lambert, a division of Pfizer, Inc., and the Attorneys General of 50 States and the District of Columbia, "to settle allegations that Warner-Lambert conducted an unlawful marketing campaign for the drug Neurontin® (gabapentin) that violated state consumer protection laws." 
On the surface, the site seems very credible by providing links to published papers relating to pharma promotional practices, drug reps, and the influence the industry has on prescribing habits.  Yet the more you read, the more you begin to feel like the authors are making light of this very serious issue (and accusations) by trying to be clever and funny.   For example, in the section titled "Teaching Tools" there are items like "Drug Ad Bingo: An exercise for physicians-in-training on how to recognize sales techniques in pharmaceutical ads" and "Bring Your Own Lunch (BYOL) PharmedOut Guide for the sandwich-challenged". 
Either way, it's an interesting resource that is worth looking at.  The ironic thing is that for a Website that is bent on (once again) casting an evil shroud over pharma's promotional practices, I wish it would invite or offer opposing viewpoints in order to provide "fair balance" to its claims.  Yes, we have all read the stories of how pharma companies and their reps have misled the public.  But that's not necessarily true about all pharma companies, nor all reps.  And I am not a rep and I don't work for a pharma company, but I have been a part of many many marketing-related meetings with my pharma clients, and I can assure you that there are many folks that are honest and responsible, and that are not motivated by greed; in fact, they are driven by an intense desire and passion to improve patients' lives.  Perhaps pharma should launch its own website inviting real people to submit real stories about how a product has helped them or their families; better yet, perhaps pharma employees should be allowed to submit stories that convey the dedication they have to what I consider to be quite a noble profession. 
I am not saying that PharmedOUT does not fill an unmet need or provide a much-needed public service; however, I have always found that when an organization takes an extreme perspective on anything (no matter how correct or validated that perspective might be), people tend to tune out.  If we really want to bring this issue into the light, I think it's important that a more fair-balanced, multiple viewpoint story is presented. 
Anyway, I would welcome your commments on this matter.
Fabio Gratton
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