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Australian nurses are prominent targets of pharmaceutical company marketing and education campaigns, data shows


Australian nurses are prominent targets of pharmaceutical company marketing and education campaigns, a data analysis shows.

The insight comes as drug companies have named for the first time doctors and nurses who have accepted financial support and payments, under Medicines Australia’s revised Code of Conduct.

Lead author, Dr Quinn Grundy (PhD), from Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre, said drug companies sponsored more than 116,800 events for healthcare professionals over four years to September 2015, with nurses present at nearly 40% of them – twice as often as GPs were represented.

Nurses were also specifically targeted, with a small proportion of events including nurses only, the study found.

“Although a small proportion of nurse attendees had prescribing authority, non-prescribing nurses may have been routinely included in pharmaceutical company events, which perhaps reflects their role in medication compliance, the management of chronic disease, and hospital purchasing,” the authors wrote.

“I think the power and influence nurses have in the healthcare system is invisible to the public and to policy makers. The assumption is that if you don’t prescribe, the pharmaceutical companies are not interested in you,” Dr Quinn told TMR.

“In nursing schools we typically don’t have any preparation in how to interact with industry, even though it’s a really big part of a lot of nurses’ jobs.

“So I think there is not much awareness of risks like conflicts of interest around marketing in our professional and educational institutions.”

The data, reported in the current issue of JAMA, was drawn from Medicines Australia’s records covering drug industry payments to all health professionals.

In the US, transparency regulations are limited to payments to doctors. Outlays on events for nurses only over the four years came to $12.5 million, including some $3 million for food and drink, compared to $139 million on doctor-only events.

From October 1, it will be compulsory for drug companies in Australia to name all healthcare professionals who receive financial support or payment for services.

Under a transitional arrangement, the 35 Medicines Australia member companies recently identified for the first time beneficiaries who consented to being named in reports for the six months to April.

The individual reports name thousands of doctors and nurses who received more than $8 million for activities such as attending events and acting in advisory roles.

The lists include many GPs, notably those with an interest in HIV.

But the number accounts for less than two-thirds of all recipients under the consent-based arrangement. And the amount is a fraction of the industry’s self-declared annual payments to all health professionals of $64 million.

Brisbane GP Dr Justin Coleman said the data remained difficult to access.

“Ideally, we should have a centralised data base (for doctors’ payments) as Medicines Australia originally indicated it would do.”

JAMA Internal Medicine; online 12 September


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