Pharma MR gains hold in frosty Minnesota

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The Minnesota pharmacy board maintained that it's legal to pay doctors to answer bona fide marketing surveys, but legislation being debated may keep the state a marketing research “dead zone,” said one lobbyist.

Recently, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, which collects physician gift data under a 1993 state law, clarified that it does not consider payments to physicians illegal, as long as the payment compensates the doctor “in connection with a genuine research project.” Pharmaceutical companies must still file an annual report with the board concerning such payments.

The clarification, added in an FAQ on the board's website last month, reflects its long-standing position, Cody Wiberg, the pharmacy board's executive director, told MM&M. “Even under the old FAQs, those sorts of payments were allowed. It's just that people out there were misinterpreting this FAQ, perhaps because of the way we wrote it.”

Legitimate surveys, Wiberg explained, involve those which manufacturers hire a marketing-research company to carry out. Such studies, in most instances, are blinded—the physician never knows which company is the sponsor, and payments come through a vendor, not manufacturer.

“It's a good step,” said Howard Fienberg, director of government affairs for the Marketing Research Association (MRA), one of several who lobbied for the clarification. The board had not meant to dissuade industry from conducting legitimate marketing research, he said. “The difficulty is that existing [Minnesota] law is very vague and badly written.”

The problem stems from Minnesota's 1993 statute banning physician gifts over $50. To some, the board had seemed to take a skeptical view of the practice of paying physicians to garner their participation in marketing-research surveys; an earlier FAQ characterizes such payments as “inappropriate.”

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