Conservative Group to Urge Pfizer to Oppose Administration's Secretive "Academic Detailing" Program
by Judy Kent
Short Hills, NJ/Washington, DC - At the annual meeting of Pfizer shareholders in Short Hills, New Jersey, the National Center for Public Policy Research plans to ask Pfizer CEO Ian Read if Pfizer agrees with the National Center and others that the Administration's practice of "academic detailing," particularly in a non-transparent manner, carries potential dangers for the public.
Jeff Stier, director of the National Center's Risk Analysis Division, also plans to ask Mr. Read to what extent he expects the pharmaceutical industry to urge Congress to defund this program, or, at the very least, to require the government agency running it to provide transparency, so the American people will know exactly what the government is doing.
Academic detailing is the process through which the federal government, through a new "Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality" arising from President Obama's 2009 stimulus, has been disbursing millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to public relations agencies, who then send representatives, called "academic detailers," to doctors' offices to advise doctors as to what drugs they should prescribe, and for what purposes.
Pharmaceutical firms have representatives who advise doctors, in a process referred to as "drug detailing," but the advice given is strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, Stier says.
"The federal government is not only not regulated, but it refuses to be transparent about the advice its academic detailers are giving. Yet the government has a huge conflict of interest, in that it wants health care costs to be as low as possible," says Stier. "We all want to keep health care costs as low as possible, but many classes of drugs -- among them statins, anti-hypertensives, analgesics and antipsychotic medicines -- the selection of the appropriate drug among many possibilities requires a delicate balancing of effectiveness and acceptable side effects in each unique patient. Are government-funded detailers taking such phenomena into account? Do they explain these nuances to doctors, or do they simply advise them to prescribe the least expensive medicines even if they don't work well for some patients?"
"We don't know," Stier continues. "What we do know is that the initial academic detailing grants are intended to disseminate the findings of comparative effectiveness research, which evaluates treatment outcomes derived from large-population -- as opposed to patient-specific -- data. This approach can be harmful to patients who don't respond to medicine in the same way as a majority of patients."
"Another thing we don't know, Stier adds, "is whether the government's academic detailers are being paid a straight salary, or if they are paid according to their success in getting doctors to prescribe cheaper therapies."
The National Center for Public Policy Research believes Congress should revisit the issue of using tax dollars to hire public relations firms to give medical advice to doctors, especially as the sums the government expects to spend doing this are expected to rise sharply. But at a very minimum, the National Center believes Congress should change the law to require full transparency, so the government's agents are required to abide by the same degree of scientific oversight and transparency standards demanded of others.
The National Center hopes the pharmaceutical industry will urge Members of Congress, if it is not doing so already, to end this practice or, at the very least, reform it and make it transparent to the public.
Jeff Stier has written extensively about this issue, including in Forbes and the Washington Examiner.
A copy of Stier's question at the shareholder meeting, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
The National Center for Public Policy Research is a Pfizer shareholder.
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than 4 percent from foundations, and less than 2 percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors.