The LA Times' Melissa Healy has a whole series examining the pharmaceutical industry’s influence on doctors and patients. There's nothing new here: the same stuff we've heard for yearsfromassorted critics of so-called "corporate power." The remarkable thing is that states and Congress are trying to stop behavior which, in other areas of human endeavor, any reasonable person would accept as appropriate.
For example, I am shocked, shocked to learn that drug sales reps use "enticements, persuasive techniques and market-tracking systems ..... to nudge doctors' prescribing decisions to boost sales." Could you imagine legislators getting riled up at the discovery that Toshiba salespeople seek to increase sales ofToshiba products, or Toyota salespeople seek to sell Toyota products?
What critics ignore is that these sales techniques are a consequence of competition. There is no perfect information out there. Pfizer, for example,cannot simply rely on doctors to learn about Pfizer's medicines on their own. Pfizer has to have drug reps calling ondoctors because Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, and the rest of its competitors do too.
Is this wasteful? Well, in every other sector, such competition increases quality and reduces costs (see, e.g. Toshiba for personal computers, and Toyota for automobiles). There's little doubt that competition in prescription medicines has increased quality. Whether costs have come down as much as they would in a competitive market is, admittedly, doubtful, but that is not the fault of the sales & marketing efforts of the drug makers, but the legislation and regulation of state and federal governments.
Indeed, if drug makers are only interested in making money for their investors and bosses, why are they throwing it away entertaining doctors, as Ms. Healy's sources accuse? Well, that's because physicians have absolute control over their relationship with Big Pharma by virtue of their professional monopoly on prescribing medicines, a state-granted privilege that they have protected for centuries. However, the life-changing pharmaceutical breakthroughs resulting from the trillions of dollars that investors have risked in pharmaceutical R&D have only occurred in the last six decades.
Only one in many thousands of molecules will result in a commercially viable medicine, and only one-third of those earn enough to make a profit. It is not surprising that people who risk their savings this way demand that their employees--the pharmaceutical executives--make every effort possible to get successful medicines to the patients they would benefit.
Sales, marketing, and advertising are necessary for competition and innovation in any human activity. The morass of proposed legislative and regulatory interference that Ms. Healy describes will only reduce the money available for medical research and development.