INdiana Systemic Thinking

December 9, 2007

Marketing and Big Pharma

Last night I had finished all the posting work for the blog and decided to do some web surfing.  It dawned on me I hadn’t done much of that since installing the RSS feed software.  So there I went.

However, I was drawn to a memory I had earlier in the day when I was posting this about Eli Lilly hiring a firm to do “damage control” [my phrase] for the drug Zyprexia.  I remember the story quoted a Psychiatrist who ran a blog.  I decided to check it out. 

I don’t know about anyone else, but things tend to trend for me.  What I mean is certain topics come up in different situations a few times over a few days.  This was one of those occasions.  As I looked through Dr. Carlat’s blog I was struck by the number of unflattering posts about the marketing practices of the major pharmaceutical companies.  What was strange, in a Jungian synchronicity way, was I remembered reading a post on Dr. Mike Schatzlein’s blog (titled, Is This Thing On), about the same topic, but more related to physical medicine.  I wasn’t going to post about it, because it didn’t really have anything to do with mental health, but once I read Dr. Carlat’s article, I decided big-pharma’s marketing tactics were relevant to everyone in healthcare and systemically undermining the patients right to trust his/her physician, despite the area of practice, with making the best medical decision, based on the patients’ needs.

Indeed, in Dr. Schatzlein’s blog, he makes the point that by advertising directly to the consumer, big pharma is, in a sense, undermining the physician who, because they may not prescribe a specific drug, is not, in the patient’s view,  giving the patient the best care.  In fact, the opposite is probably more true, that not prescribing a heavily advertised drug will more than likely, cost the patient less, and is more tailored to their specific situation.  Dr. Schatzlein also mentions a well know heart researcher who is currently hawking the prescription drug Lipitor.  While this researcher did graduate from medical school, he has spent his entire life developing high risk artificial hearts that, while not really successful, garnered him a high degree of fame.  According to Schatzlein, this researcher, after medical school, never sought a license to practice medicine and went straight into research.  So we have this researcher who has never written a prescription, telling consumers this is the best drug for them.  In the Blogmeister’s opinion, it appears that after a life of research (he’s getting up there), this researcher is “selling out” to big pharma to pad his retirement account.

It is exactly this “selling out” to big pharma that Dr. Carlat addresses in an article he wrote for New York Magazine.  The Blogmeister was enthralled with this article which describes the insidious way a good Psychiatrist was turned into a pawn for the drug companies through lavish ego stroking and, of course, cash.  He outlines how his conscience eventually caught up with him and his search to reconcile how he may have misled other physicians and possibly hurt patients, with wanting to be an ethical Physician.

The point of all this is the public needs to trust their Physicians.  They need to know their Physician is prescribing what is best for the patient, despite what  a drug representative just bought them for lunch.  By the same token, patients need to realize, while sometimes the best drug for them is the one with the best marketing campaign, sometimes it is not.  The person to determine that difference is your unbiased Physician.

[Post-script:  As I was fininishing this post, my 10 year old Daughter looked over my shoulder.  She saw the word “Lipitor” and commented, “Oh, I’ve heard of that, it’s on T.V.]

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