From the New York Times, published December 17, 2013:

December 16, 2013 — The British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline will no longer pay doctors to promote its products and will stop tying compensation of sales representatives to the number of prescriptions doctors write, its chief executive said Monday, effectively ending two common industry practices that critics have long assailed as troublesome conflicts of interest.

The announcement appears to be a first for a major drug company — although others may be considering similar moves — and it comes at a particularly sensitive time for Glaxo.

It’s certainly a bold move. Pay-for-promotion, so-to-speak, has been a common tactic in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries’ education, marketing, and outreach strategies. The practice has been controversial due to the perception — and not infrequent reality — of conscious (or unconscious) influence on prescribing behavior. For many consumers, healthcare providers, and medical ethicists, Glaxo’s announcement is a welcome development.

Were life and healthcare nothing but black-and-white affairs, then the ethical implications of halting any form of compensation for education, marketing, and medical leadership resources would be fairly clear: physicians would be free of undue influence and informational contamination.

In such a world, physicians would stand as informational ascetics — medical gnostics independently seeking out the safest and most effective products available without concern for the time value of money or opportunity costs.

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