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PhRMA Offers Code of Proper Perks

Kate Traynor

A new marketing code from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) takes a swing at golf outings and other perks offered to physicians and pharmacists by drug company representatives.

PhRMA's "Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals" (PDF), which the trade organization adopted on April 18, declares that dealings between sales representatives and health care professionals must relate primarily to patient care. Interactions deemed acceptable under the code include discussing a company's products, providing a health care professional with scientific or educational materials, and supporting medical research.

To comply with the code, however, those interactions should not take place on a golf course, at an expensive restaurant, or at other venues that PhRMA described as unsuitable for the exchange of scientific information. The code also specifies that the inclusion of a health care provider's spouse or other guest during the information session is not appropriate.

Portions of the code address gifts from drug company representatives to health care providers. The code authorizes gifts, such as anatomical models and stethoscopes, if the items are worth $100 or less. But the code specifically disallows gifts of golf balls, tickets to sporting events, and videocassette recorders.

Gifts of minimal value, such as pens and notepads, are allowed under the code as long as the items are intended for use at the health care provider's practice site.

The code allows a sales representative to pick up the tab for a health care provider's meal as long as the cost is modest by local standards and the diners discuss appropriate scientific or educational issues. Because the sales representative must be present during the interaction, the mere dropping off of food for a health care provider's staff—without a discussion of scientific or educational issues—is not allowed by the code.

The voluntary code goes into effect on July 1. Jackie Cottrell, deputy vice president of public affairs for PhRMA, said the implementation delay is designed to "give the companies an opportunity to explain the code and get information out to the marketers."

Cottrell said she expects that all of the companies represented by members of PhRMA's executive committee will adopt the voluntary code. The committee, whose members unanimously adopted the code, includes executives from Pharmacia Corp., Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, Abbott Laboratories Inc., and Hoffmann-La Roche Inc.

The code does not apply to interactions between drug companies and health care providers involved in studies of drugs that have not been granted marketing approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Cottrell said the distinction was made because "sales representatives don't work with clinicians."