Updated: In Defense of Pharmaceutical Companies

You have probably heard stories about drug companies that used to lavish doctors with Caribbean vacations, wads of cash, and tickets to World Series or Superbowl games. I heard them too, but I was never offered one nor did I ever meet another physician who talked about receiving them. I also never hear anyone complain about the swag-bags valued at $30,000 that wealthy Hollywood types receive at the Academy Award events.

By far, the best and most important “gifts” from drug companies are the samples of product that we distribute to patients to test out a drug first to determine if it works well and if it is tolerated. We also give higher quantities of samples to people who either don’t have insurance or their insurance just doesn’t cover the cost of the drug.

The next most important gift is a modern medical textbook. Books obviously serve the purposes of both the physician and the patient by helping the continuing education of the doctor that might improve the outcome for the patient.

When I graduated from medical school in 1977, I received a doctor’s bag, a stethoscope, and a reflex hammer. They were of high quality and invaluable to me as I used them extensively throughout my four years of internship and residency. To this day, I couldn’t tell you which company or companies provided them as they came without any promotional material or a visit from a sales representative. I still have the bag and the hammer, but the stethoscope was stolen. I found out how valuable it was in dollars when I had to buy a new one.

A few years back, in a concession to tougher government regulations, many of the larger pharmaceutical houses came together and decided to abide by a set of more stringent ethical guidelines. These included not leaving sticky Post-It type pads and pens emblazoned with the name of the company and/or the brand name of the drug du jour. The reason for this is that government regulators, hospital administrators of drug formularies, and some academic doctors believed that these pads or pens made us prescribe more of the drug. I can’t prove or disprove that, but I can tell you that I sorely miss those sticky notes. They are so rare to find in our offices that some staff members hoard them and others seek them out in their colleagues’ drawers. The pens, however, were abysmal cheap plastic ball points that either didn’t work at all or stopped working after the first few written words. Good riddance. I recently noticed that some doctor group practices and home health care agencies are distributing the sticky pads with their names and numbers. I am definitely going to refer patients to these providers.

Anything that lasts for a long time is either very well-made, very useful, or just has a lot of sentimental value. In preparation for this article, I searched my desk for items I had received from drug or device companies and that I have used for over 30 years. Here they are listed and illustrated in no particular order.

1. Screwdriver Set. I’m not sure which company donated it, ICN perhaps, but the names of their drugs are still listed on the plastic holder. It contains screwdrivers, both standard and Phillips in different diameters. Although two are missing, the remainder still get a lot of use.IMG_2135

2. Telescoping Metal Pointer. This was donated by Sandoz. I stopped using it when laser pointers became all the rage, except that their batteries died quickly, then people feared getting them shined in their eyes, and now the red laser light can’t be seen on the modern LCD screens used for Powerpoint presentations. One new technology has brought back a low-tech device.IMG_2134Thus, I’ve started using the metal pointer again for my lectures and proudly state that I am “old-school.”

3. Letter Opener. This was donated by the National Biological Corporation. They manufacture and sell phototherapy units for psoriasis and other skin diseases which I have been using exclusively for 4 decades because of their reliability and service. Now, most letters I do open the old-fashioned way with my fingernails, but there are some nasty taped-up envelopes that require the blade.IMG_2133

4. Business Card Holder. It’s from the Italian American Foundation, and no, it’s not gold. It is very useful for carrying business cards, my own and others that I acquire at meetings. Now that I think about it, this item doesn’t really qualify as a gift because I donated more to the foundation than the value of the case. I left it in because it looks and feels classy and has lasted so long.


Update: I found four more items received from drug companies which I am proud to say I have used and retained for many years. Two were actually used in theIMG_2143 practice of medicine. I’ll let you guess which ones they are. 











Newer Update: Another category of “gifts” comes from the professional societies we belong to and sometimes volunteer for. No, I don’t mean all the certificates and plaques for which there is not enough wall space, but rather, practical and nice-looking desk items. I have two of these for which I am very grateful. 

The box was from the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery for giving a lecture, and the paperweight was from the American Board of Dermatology for writing questions for their examinations. By the way, the paperweight caused me to be searched at the airport on the way home.