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Concerns flagged over pharma 'targeting of nurses'

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Pharmaceutical companies are deliberately targeting nurses amid fears this could unduly influence prescribing and treatment, suggests new research.

A study by the University of Sydney found Australian nurses attended thousands of industry-sponsored events over four years.

“They would not continue to invest in these activities unless they resulted in favourable financial outcomes”

Elissa Ladd and Alex Hoyt

Researchers analysed reports from trade association Medicines Australia on sponsored events for health professionals and found nurses attended more than 46,000 in the four years up to September 2015.

Nurses were present at nearly 40% of events, which was twice as often as GPs. However, nurse practitioners – the category of nurse that can prescribe medicines in Australia – attended less than 1% or 1,013 events. A small proportion of events included nurses only.

The study, which was published as a research letter in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, suggested much more attention had been given to payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies to doctors to date.

But it was clear firms were increasingly interested in nurses, perhaps because of their influential role in areas including procurement, said the researchers, led by nurse Dr Quinn Grundy.

University of Sydney

Concerns flagged over pharma payments to nurses

Quinn Grundy

“Although a small proportion of nurse attendees had prescribing authority, non-prescribing nurses may have been routinely included in pharmaceutical industry-sponsored events, which perhaps reflects their role in medication compliance, the management of chronic disease, and hospital purchasing,” said the letter.

Commenting on the study, Elissa Ladd, associate professor in nursing, and Alex Hoyt, assistant professor in nursing, both from the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, said the findings had “important global lessons”.

“The frequent presence of nurses at pharmaceutical company-sponsored educational events indicates they are valued by industry in a way that has heretofore gone unnoticed,” they wrote in a linked commentary in the journal.

The two US nurse academics suggested that pharmaceutical companies would not continue to invest in nurses in this way unless there was a good return.

“Financial allocation for promotion to nurses most certainly provides a very positive return on investment for the pharmaceutical industry; they would not continue to invest in these activities unless they resulted in favourable financial outcomes,” they said.

The industry may see nurses as “very influential” in purchasing or when it came to more informal guidance for patients on treating for chronic conditions.

University of Pennsylvania

Concerns flagged over pharma payments to nurses

Elissa Ladd

“In addition, nurses without prescribing authority may influence prescribing patterns by steering prescriptions toward the brand-name drug brought by pharmaceutical representatives or suggesting that patients start with samples,” they wrote.

Drug companies may well be seeking to capitalise on the fact nursing was the “most trusted” profession, as suggested in a recent Gallup poll, they added.

The study called for transparency regulations and conflict of interest management to routinely include nurses as well as doctors.

In June this year the UK pharmaceutical industry launched a public database disclosing payments to healthcare professionals including nurses.

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • *Sigh*

    From my experience just about the only way of getting access to any training, being able to keep up with current research and developments in my field, meeting PREP requirements and the like was by attending events sponsored by drug companies, as my trust would not provide any relevant training or if it did access to it was obstructed by managers unwilling to allow staff time away from clinical work...

    Or consider the difficulties in trying to set up a "sharing best practice" event when trust managers will not help in any way. Who else will help sponsor and run such a thing apart from the pharmaceutical companies?

    This is not a great state of affairs, but holding your nose and taking the money is the only available way of doing some things. Which needs to change...

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  • I am a research nurse working in hepatology, a field that has seen dramatic changes over the last decade. Nurses have been recognised by their peers as pivotal to the care of patients on new treatments. Nurses working together have been able to educate and develop a nursing workforce to professionally deal with these changes. We have only been able to do this because of the financial support of the pharma industry. We have been in the advantageous position of being able to benefit from the highly competitive nature of the pharmaceutical industry. We as a group have been fully aware of the motives of the industry but have been able to access opportunity for our patients and our nursing knowledge base that would not be available otherwise.
    I find this reporting to be one sided and short sighted. It is an invitation for bureaucratic change brought on by media hype up that will not benefit anyone. There are already stringent rules in place that limit the type of sponsorship that pharma can provide.


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