Australian doctors must be more transparent about their relationships with the pharmaceutical industry, including disclosing details of remuneration received and potential conflicts of interest, according to an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Professor Philip Mitchell, head of the School of Psychiatry at the University of NSW, writes that the relationship between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry in the United States is undergoing rapid and momentous change in the wake of allegations that leading medical academics failed to adequately disclose both earnings from the industry and conflicts of interest.
Prof Mitchell said there must also be changes in the way this relationship operates in Australia.
"While some argue that the medical community should divorce itself completely from the pharmaceutical industry, this is unrealistic," Prof Mitchell said.
"Without private pharmaceutical companies, few innovative medications would have been developed for use in clinical practice. There is no doubt, though, that the relationship between the medical profession and industry is currently dysfunctional."
Prof Mitchell said the challenge is how to transform the relationship into one based on integrity and transparency.
"We now have a major credibility problem with the public; it is an issue of trust. If we do not regulate ourselves, others such as governments or the courts will, and the outcomes of that may not be palatable to doctors," he said.
Prof Mitchell said it was inevitable doctors would eventually need to declare the actual earnings (if any) they received from pharmaceutical companies.
He noted that details of all industry-sponsored educational and marketing activities in Australia and the associated costs were already listed on the Medicines Australia website, although, at this stage, not disclosure of the names of clinicians receiving remuneration.
Australian universities should consider developing detailed recommendations on relationships between medical academics and the pharmaceutical industry similar to those recently developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which proscribed receipt of gifts, cautioned on the distribution of samples, restricted access of pharmaceutical representatives, and proscribed accepting payment for attendance at industry-sponsored meetings and acceptance of gifts, including industry-supplied food and meals, at such events, Prof Mitchell said.
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.