Business briefs: Reps mum on adverse events; FCC's new mHealth director; med schools tighten speaking limits

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Sales reps aren't fond of talking adverse events, even when there's more than enough time to talk about them, reported researchers who surveyed drug reps in Sacramento, Montreal, Vancouver and Toulouse between 2009 and 2010. The results were the same regardless of regulatory requirements. Researchers also found an inverse relationship between drugs with the FDA black box warning and how reps talked about them, which is to say they really didn't—researchers said reps failed to discuss any harm in 57% of the sales pitches for drugs that had the FDA's black box or Canada's equivalent (France does not have a black box warning). Yet these same reps managed to make “fewer unqualified safety claims for drugs with boxed warnings.” Doctors, who filled out surveys following rep visits, did say that reps always found time to discuss health benefits, reimbursement rates, consumer costs and competitive information. Amid the data was a bit of irony. Researchers wrote “physicians rated information quality more highly if harm was mentioned.”

The FCC's mHealth Task Force has checked off one item from is mHealth-promotion checklist: it's filled the director of healthcare initiatives job with Matthew Quinn, reported MobiHealth News, which said filling the job, was “one of the task force's key suggestions” after the September 2012 meeting. Quinn's government credentials include working for the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. His job is to facilitate and promote technology and services that “improve the quality of heathcare for all citizens and help reduce healthcare costs,” among other charges.

While Dow Jones cannot attribute pharma's lagging payments for speakers fees and lunches strictly to the Sunshine Act, reporter Peter Loftus found that it could be a contributing factor to the sliding numbers seen among some market players. Among the findings: Pfizer paid $173.2 million to US physicians last year, 11% less than in 2011. Among Pfizer's cutbacks were dinners: the company spent 40% less on evening meals, partly replacing them with virtual meetings between docs and sales reps. It also trimmed its expert forums by 60%, while GSK's belt was 20% tighter in 2012 than 2011. Loftus wrote the patent cliff had a role as well, since there was little need to promote a non-exclusive entity.

The latest report card from the American Medical Student Association shows med schools continue to crack down on industry interaction. The association found that while its ideal model is still used by few schools, the number of institutions seeking to impose some sort of limit is on the rise. Trends this year included limits on speaking agreements between pharma and faculty: AMSA said 18 schools have banned faculty from participating on speakers' bureaus, including Harvard, New York University, Duke, Columbia and Wake Forest. Researchers said sales reps continue to be a “challenging area” and that only three schools—University of South Dakota, Florida State and Commonwealth Medical College—ban reps.

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