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Bill Aims to Provide Unbiased Drug Information to Doctors

By Danielle Parnass, CQ Staff

August 5, 2008 -- Lawmakers have introduced legislation in both chambers that would provide physicians with independent information on prescription drugs that is based on scientific research as an alternative to the information supplied by drug companies.

The bills (S 3396, HR 6752) would give federal grants for prescription drug education and outreach to health care providers. The academic detailing program, as it is called, would provide objective, unbiased information to doctors on drugs.

"Providing doctors with objective information about prescription drugs allows them to prescribe the most effective treatment to their patients," Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said in a release. Pallone introduced the House companion measure with Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif.

Drug companies are currently one of the only ways a doctor gets information about drugs, a practice that is "fraught with conflicts of interest," Senate bill sponsor Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., said in a release.

But the pharmaceutical industry says information offered by drug companies is only one of numerous factors a doctor considers before prescribing medicine to their patients, such as a patient's medical history, clinical guidelines, and peer feedback.

"Clearly, the view that physician prescribing is overwhelmingly determined by pharmaceutical company outreach is not accurate," Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Senior Vice President Ken Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson said generic drugs accounted for nine of 10 most commonly prescribed medicines in 2007, and for 67 percent in the United States, according to IMS Health, a consulting and data services firm that provides sales information to pharmaceutical companies.

"Governmental efforts to drive particular prescribing decisions by physicians need to be approached with great caution and with the recognition of the many factors in the current system that can impact prescribing decisions," Johnson said.

He said that pharmaceutical sales representatives must comply with strict Food and Drug Administration regulations, and that these academic detailing programs are not held to the same standards.

Kohl spokeswoman Ashley Glacel said although there's not much time left this year to get the legislation moving, the measure is part of a larger effort by lawmakers to change the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and doctors. She also indicated the possibility of attaching the bill to other legislation. If not passed this year, they will continue to push for and reintroduce the measure next year, she said.

Other sponsors of the Senate measure include Sens. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.; Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.; and Bob Casey, D-Pa.

"Studies confirm that when unbiased health professionals, armed with educational materials, provide guidance to doctors, they are more likely to purchase the best drug for the patient instead of the best deal for the pharmaceutical company," Durbin said in the release.

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