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Study Finds Docs Not Informed of Harmful Effects of Medicines During Sales Visits

Authors concerned about patient safety (Apr. 10)

Family doctors receive little or no information about the harmful effects of medicines in most drug promotions during visits by drug company representatives, according to an international study involving U.S., Canadian, and French physicians.

The same doctors indicated, however, that they were likely to start prescribing these drugs, which was consistent with previous research that showed that prescribing behavior is influenced by pharmaceutical promotion.

The study, which had physicians fill out questionnaires about each promoted medicine following sales visits, was published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The results show that sales representatives failed to provide any information about common or serious side effects and about the type of patients who should not use the medicine in 59% of the promotions.

“Laws in all three countries require sales representatives to provide information on harm as well as benefits,” said lead author Barbara Mintzes. “But no one is monitoring these visits, and there are next to no sanctions for misleading or inaccurate promotion.”

Serious risks were mentioned in only 6% of the promotions, even though 57% of the medications involved in these visits came with FDA “black box” or Health Canada boxed warnings — the strongest drug warning that can be issued by both countries.

“We are very concerned that doctors and patients are left in the dark and that patient safety may be compromised,” said Mintzes, an expert on drug advertising.

The study involved physicians in Sacramento, California; in Vancouver and Montreal, Canada; and in Toulouse, France.

The doctors in Toulouse were more likely to be told of a harmful effect in a promotional visit, compared with those in the U.S. and Canada, according to the study. The researchers suggested that this may reflect stricter regulatory standards for the promotion of medicines in France.

Source: University of British Columbia; April 10, 2013.

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