By David Woods ( [email protected] )

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recently issued a 43-page report of its task force on industry funding of medical education. Sections of the report deal with site access by pharmaceutical company representatives.

Specifically, the report states that “to protect patients, patient care areas, and work schedules, access by pharmaceutical representatives to individual physicians should be restricted to non-patient care areas and nonpublic areas… and should take place only by appointment with or invitation of the physician.”

The report goes on to state that highly trained industry reps with a PhD, MD,or PharmD are best suited for conveying science and pharmaceutical information in academic medical centres… and that this also should be by invitation only.

Moreover, industry-supplied food or meals are to be considered personal gifts and will not be permitted; and travel funds, other than for contractual services or legitimate reimbursement are not allowed. Finally, on the subject of drug samples, the report states that these may be of some benefit… but that physicians may run the risk of conflict of interest if they are seen to profit from recommending certain products.

Of course, these proscriptions are not new. The pharmaceutical industry and its watchdog organisation the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) have tried to curb the excesses of trinkets and junkets being offered as blandishments to the medical profession. In fact, PhRMA recently issued a new ‘Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals‘ that bans giveaways like pens, notepads and coffee cups with company logos, and meals in restaurants. The code also calls for caps on how much companies can pay physicians for speaking engagements. While firms such as Pfizer, J & J, Eli Lilly and GSK have unanimously endorsed the code, the Wall Street Journal suggests that some critics claim that it will do little to curb industry influence on doctors. But the AAMC task force report appears to put some teeth in the rulings.

So, are there ways to get around these new rules? Well, Health Outcomes Communicator ( HOC ) was among the first to call attention to alternative ways by which pharmaceutical companies can reach physicians. In an article in the December 2007 issue of HOC titled “A new way for pharmaceutical companies and prescribers to interact,” we published an interview with the founder and CEO of Sermo, Dr Daniel Palestrant. Sermo, he told us, is an internet-based social networking site for physicians. Pfizer, which had laid off 20% of its US and European sales teams, quickly saw Sermo as a way to communicate with doctors online and provide them with drug and disease information. Sermo, said Palestrant, provides the technology to change the way industry and the medical profession talk to each other.

HOC , as its lead page proclaims each issue, is not only about ‘information and ideas for health economists;’ it’s also about being at the cutting edge of both.