Your internet has a drugs

16 06 2009
Whiz Kids: Alec & Shanna and The Computer That Said NO To Drugs!

Whiz Kids: Alec & Shanna and The Computer That Said NO To Drugs!

Computers and drugs, do they mix?

So the last post didn’t quite Pharm me all out as it was supposed to, so here’s a few remaining links in my medical marketing and related sturf I’d like to purge from my chest before they become totally irrelevant:

  1. Dose of Digital has a Top 10 marketing ideas for Pharma. I wonder if the critics agree with any of these (such as doing away with branded websites)
  2. Tips for using Twitter as a pain log (also advice on when to ignore your doctor)
  3. The UK National Health Service (NHS) has engaged the community online with a remarkably well done website. Not only does it provide health advice, contact details and news – it also responsibly examines health claims made by the UK media and lets you know the real story between red meat and sperm.
  4. The U.S. FDA has made steps towards global domination: In January it set up its first permanent base in Costa Rica
  5. A bit more technical, an article on establishing standards in biomarkers research. Biomarkers are molecular tests used to type diseases like cancers to determine which treatments are the best for you.




Rx-ky business

16 06 2009

Well, AFM called me up on the Insight post for painting my town¹ a little too apologetic for our phriends in Pharma (possibly due to some comments I made on this post of his, and these over at The Scientist, and also just today on Flickr…) .

So I guess I should make some self-apologetics, that my point has *not* been that Pharma is cute and cuddly and can always be trusted – c’mon they are industry – the wonderful Merck saga unfolds beyond just deceptive journals – this sort of awful ‘hit list’ language to “neutralise” and worse, “discredit”, critical doctors makes me cringe (and if you’re sick of hearing about Vioxx, you can get upset at Lilly’s innapropriate off-label Zyprexa marketing instead). There is nothing I can concoct to attempt to downplay the totally unethical nature of that sort of behaviour, to me it is indefensible. There are bad elements out there. Even if we rule the Vioxx shenanigans as an exceptional exception (which is the closest I can get to a defence) just take a look at the US statistics on Pharma fines and settlements made by over the last 9 years (and that just to the government, does not include private parties, class actions etc.)

Pharmaceutical companies are corporations. And yes, they are motivated by making money. And AFM is right, some guy in marketing will try to put that goal ahead of making quality medicines. But let’s remember that’s also what these companies are about making medicines. Medicines that help people. People do not get into this industry because they want to hurt people.

And that is where I start to get annoyed by anti-Pharma movements.

Read the rest of this entry »





Insight into Australian medical marketing

9 06 2009

Insight on SBS ran a televised forum on medical marketing practices in Australia about a month ago, but I’ve only just caught up and watched it – it’s still available online. The forum involved proponents from within the industry, key watchdog figures, specialists, general practitioners, medical students and a few patients/consumers.

The key thing everyone seems to want is transparency – including the pharmaceutical industry, if only to appease public concerns.

funny pictures

Unregulated pharmaceutical advertising looks like this

It was good to see a discussion that focused well on the situation here in Australia (i.e. no direct-to-consumer advertising, subsidised universal healthcare, and a strict marketing code of conduct by an industry body enforced by an independent review panel). The best points I feel were made by the professor who pointed out that there is no problem with transparency, but why are we singling out the medical profession and pharmaceutical industry? Why are we not as concerned about the links the industry has to politicians, or pharmacists*, or the influence created by sponsorship of mining, agricultural, tourism and other industries on their respective providers?

No industry is as regulated and scrutinised as our medicines industry. Yet, it continues to be criticised as not doing enough. Sure, the system is by no means perfect, breaches occur – but they are pulled up on breaches, punished, and those breaches are publicised (and as the Pfizer representative said, that hurts their public  image much more than any fine). I would not like to silence the critics, as that is the only way we can improve this system. They made good points that I’ve already blogged about recently drug samples don’t help, and brand name reminders (no matter their value) influence doctors.

Some concerns though seem a bit silly. What is wrong with bringing doctors from overseas to talk about medical advances? And just as odd, what is wrong with a mere 3% of doctors being sponsored to go overseas to learn about medical advances? Do they think Australia should develop it’s medical knowledge in isolation from our neighbours and field leaders in the US and Europe?

And some were just based on pure inability to comprehend how industry works, or anti-industry sentiment. I’m sure one person brought up the low cost of medicine manufacturing per pill compared to per pill costs to the consumer (because that is the only cost the industry faces ever?).

Some things I would have liked to have seen discussed more (or at all):

  • Spokespersons from either medical education or advertising companies – the people who actually produce the marketing materials?
  • Education in university medical courses – are medical students in Australia trained to deal with industry?
  • Training given to industry representatives regarding the code of practice – why do breaches still occur if everyone knows the rules?
  • Those industry marketers not participating in the MA, who watches them?
  • More scrutiny on those outside of the industry – pharmacists, consumer products, CAM and others who make spurious health claims  and marketing incentives outside of regulatory bodies?
  • The ghost writing issue (this was probably avoided due to the legalities surrounding the Merck/Elsevier case, or SBS just didn’t know about it)

*The “chemists” the crusie ship guy were on about, were more than likely street-pharmacists, or even pharmacy assistants, regarding sales of alternative medicines, vitamins and/or consumer medicines – absolutely nothing to do with prescription medicines. I wonder if they’ll do a similar special with the Pharmacy Guild?





Internet socks on drugs

24 05 2009

The Scientist has a piece about “asthma” becoming your friend on facebook.

It reminded me about an Australian Prescriber that has been sitting in “to post” box. Melissa Sweet (who also does Croakey) wrote about how Pharma is/can capitalise on new digital media.

The big issue with the internet and health marketing is lack of regulation. I mentioned in my previous post how marketing drugs is *very serious business* – encouraging the innapropriate drugs and treatments can hurt and kill people (that’s why we hate CAM, but that’s a story for another day).

While in Australia, it’s illegal to promote prescription products to patients and consumers, there aren’t such laws in the USA – so Pharma just needs to put information on their US website. They can’t be blamed if someone googles their options, can they?

It’s also sometimes difficult to work out where drug information is actually coming from. Melissa points in particular to a youtube account that has been accused of being a sock-puppet for a sleeping pill manufacturer.

Making it more difficult can be outdated guidelines that have yet to address modern internet communication tools (namely social media like facebook/myspace/twitter) – hopefully the 16th MA Code will expand on what is and isn’t permitted.

Photo: Team Puppet by o2b (Creative Commons)





Just a reminder, or is it?

24 05 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgThe decision on what medicines you are prescribed can be a matter of life or death. These decisions need to be based purely on what is best for you, the patient, not on who has the flashiest marketing campaign.

Medicines Australia, the national self-regulatory body for the pharmaceutical industry, is in the process of revising its Code of Conduct for 2010. The code is based mostly on ensuring that any marketing its members engage in is based primarily on accurately educating health-care professionals, and that their activities will withstand professional scrutiny and not bring the industry into disrepute.

The new code is expected to heavily crack down on the use of once ubiquitous Brand Name Reminder – all those free give-aways brand logos emblazoned on them. All brand name reminders will be expected to cost less than $20 and be directly relevant to the clinical setting – an umbrella or coffe mug is definite no, but this might also cover generic office equipment – like USB sticks, mousepads, sticky notes and pens.

Is this ban based on evidence? Sadly, yes. And even items under $20 may still cause some influence. And Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggest the mere presence of logos can influence how a doctor thinks about what he prescribes. But that influence may be a good thing. It depends on how he was educated. Read the rest of this entry »





A spoonful of sugar helps the sugar go down

22 04 2009

We learned the other week that lying to children can convince them that vegetables are cool¹. Well, the Australian sugar industry was obviously paying intention because they have released “healthyhealthier sugar“.

Yes! The power of science – “Sugar: with low sugar”. Lols.

Careful framing branding word selection is well afoot in this release. The news report claims the low GI sugar “can be used to reduce diabetes, obesity and blood pressure”. Okay, yes in theory it could potentially reduce incidence of developing these diseases, and may offer more options for those needing to monitor their GI intake. But let’s be clear, it’s use won’t act as some sort of cure, or alleviate your symptoms. It’s just possibly a better alternative (than standard sugar).

Okay, it’s hard to fault the industry too hard for actually working towards solutions to growing nutrion-based health issues – but perhaps the marketing and awareness campaign is laying it on a little thick.

—–

¹and mutagens are good for you





Lying to children is good for them

7 03 2009

Somone often tells me:

Adults you know and trust will not only lie to you, but they’ll do it because its fun.

There’s stories about the bogeyman, Santa Claus giving presents, zombie Jesus, the Tooth Faerie trading scheme, and of course, what exactly really did happen to Rover when Mummy forgot to check her rearview mirrors.

Is fun the only reason why we befuddle the youth in this way?

Well, now scientific studies have given us another reason: It works!

When 186 four-year olds were given carrots called “X-ray Vision Carrots” ate nearly twice as much as they did on the lunch days when they were simply labeled as “carrots.”

Animal experiments on carrot-marketing were stopped by the ethics commitee
Early carrot-marketing studies conducted with standard animal models were halted by Cornell’s ethics commitee

…Oh… dear…

I think that might fall under “false and misleading claims” line found in in most advertising codes.

I don’t think this quite matches up with calls to improve schoolyard scientific literacy by not only promoting the concept of “X-ray vision” (that’s not how x-rays work!) but also that eating lots carrots is good for your eyes.

You can’t try to promote good nutrition and make children more aware of how the food choices they make affect them by just simply to get them to follow the whizz-bang empty marketing jargon that got us here in the first place.

Lying to children is NOT good for them.

Image: Carrots! by marmotto (CCbyA-NC)