European countries, including Finland, are starting to implement the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations’ (EFPIA) “code on disclosure.” To put it simply, from 2015 onward pharmaceutical companies will publicly disclose all financial relations with healthcare professionals and organizations. The aim of the code is to increase transparency and strengthen the integrity of pharmaceutical and healthcare relations. A notable goal indeed.
Or so it seems.
Active collaboration is crucial for both healthcare professionals and the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma is an essential partner for physicians in both continuous education and exchange of information regarding treatments. Likewise, clinical development of new treatments would be impossible without the help of healthcare professionals. The EFPIA itself believes that interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare professionals have a “profound and positive influence” on the quality of patient treatment and the value of future research.
Therefore, increased transparency in such interactions is clearly a positive development. It is not only wise to illuminate the collaboration between the pharma industry and health care professionals, but needs to be done urgently, considering the reputation that the pharmaceutical industry has among media and laymen.
Despite the noble intentions behind the EFPIA code, however, it may have harmful consequences. We have already seen the media’s serious misunderstanding of conflict-of-interest statements that are associated with the current care guidelines. The media tends to imply that experts who have a lot of industry contacts are corrupt, whereas such relations should be considered a sign of expertise.
You simply cannot have the best knowledge of the new treatment unless you collaborate with the company who has developed and manufactured it.
Actually, the most suspicious experts are the ones with loud voices but no industry relations. It should also be noted that it is not unusual to pay professionals for the work they do, and physicians are no exception. This is easily forgotten in public discussion.
In 2016, the media will closely examine reports of financial relations when they are published for the first time, and no physician wants to rank at the top of the list. Therefore, there will be a lot of disappointed scientific advisors and product managers who have failed to attract speakers to participate in their symposia or on their advisory boards. We are already witnessing the withdrawal of experts from industry collaboration due to the new codes of conduct.
Applying the EFPIA code is profoundly positive development, but it is very unlikely that the media attention is going to be positive. National industry associations, individual companies and each pharma professional should be very well-prepared and have a strong communication plan to convey a positive message. This should not apply only to the industry, but to physicians and physician associations as well. Journalists and the general public should be educated on the nature of industry-physician relations – including the importance, of such relationships, which are crucial for bringing new medicines to patients and for furthering the development of new drugs.
Without better knowledge and understanding, the positive goals of the new codes of conduct may come with a very high cost.