Relationship between private doctors and drug firms a conflict of interest

According to the Ministry of Health, business costs and sales volume are major considerations in drug pricing (Pharmaceutical companies dictate prices of medicine in countries; May 15).

We are in a vicious circle of doctors in private practice incurring higher operating costs and passing on such expenditures to their patients.

An increasing number of doctors in private practice seem unperturbed by the appropriateness of their relationship with drug manufacturers.

It would be naive to believe that any business would discourage its sales representatives from doing all it takes to establish strong relations with customers who are likely to give the highest return on their investment.

Specialists in the private sector depend heavily on pharmaceutical companies to support their continual medical education programmes, which include costly regional conferences.

Although doctors have long disputed that the sponsorships they receive have any bearing on the brand and quantity of medication that they prescribe, there has always been a prevailing suspicion of a correlation.

Drug manufacturers would not spend so much effort and money on doctors if it does not benefit their bottom line.

Drug makers are aware that market forces in the private sector influence decisions when prescribing medication.

Sponsorships are seen, essentially, as incentives given to doctors to prescribe their company's products in larger quantities on a regular basis.

The pharmaceutical industry knows how to precipitate such behaviour in private medical practitioners, as the physicians are running a business.

On the issue of prescriptions, doctors in the public sector generally feel no direct impact from the sale of drugs.

Specialists in premier private hospitals, on the other hand, treat affluent local patients or medical tourists, who have more options when it comes to their treatment plan as well as the purchasing power to obtain patent drugs.

Even though not all doctors are easily swayed by incentives from pharmaceutical companies into handing out more prescriptions than are necessary, the crux of the matter is that this mutually beneficial relationship between drug manufacturers and doctors is undoubtedly a conflict of interest in medical practice.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'Relationship between private doctors and drug firms a conflict of interest'. Print Edition | Subscribe