Academic health center ends drug company gifts

The University of Pennsylvania health system is developing a new policy aimed at ending the drug company practice of gaining access to doctors by giving gifts such as meals and merchandise. As of July 1, the system is prohibiting physicians from accepting gifts and meals from drug company representatives on hospital premises.

Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania pharmacy director Rick Demers, MS, said health system physicians can only prescribe drugs that have been approved by a committee and drug companies hope that by getting closer to doctors, they can get their products on the list. The system operates three hospitals — Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Medical Center, and Pennsylvania Hospital.

Demers told the Daily Pennsylvanian that while the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania hasn't calculated the amount drug companies spend there each year, he believes there are several system medical practices that receive meals from drug companies daily.

"There are a number of companies that view food as the key to the doors here at the hospital," he said, adding that other health centers have calculated that drug companies spend more than $1 million annually to attract physicians from their health system.

Under the new policy, drug companies still will be able to give financial grants to the Penn Health System, but with less ability than before to specify how the money is to be spent.

Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania chief medical officer Patrick Brennan, MD, said that even small gifts can influence a physician to support a specific product, and the policy change should eliminate this from happening. He said the gifts create a sense of obligation "which leads to decisions that are not always in the best interest of the patient." He said he expects similar policies to take hold throughout the country.