Drug Companies Pay "Opinion Leaders" to Push Pills During Influential Meetings, Seminars

Friday, November 14, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: drug companies, health news, Natural News

eTrust Pro Certified

Delicious Pin It
(NaturalNews) An article published in the British Medical Journal, also known as BMJ, has revealed the extent to which pharmaceutical companies go to turn influential senior doctors into undercover salespeople for their drugs.

"Key opinion leaders were salespeople for us, and we would routinely measure the return on our investment, by tracking prescriptions before and after their presentations," said Kimberly Elliot, who worked for 18 years as a sales representative for major drug companies. "If that speaker didn't make the impact the company was looking for, then you wouldn't invite them back."

Elliot worked for companies including Novartis, SmithKline Beecham and Westwood Squibb from the age of 23, until deciding that she was disillusioned with the business in 2007. A major source of her dissatisfaction was the industry's increasingly aggressive marketing practices.

Richard Tines, the medical director for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, also admitted to BMJ that so-called "key opinion leaders" (KOLs) are a major part of drug companies' marketing strategy.

"Companies will employ consultants to help advise on marketing strategies ... and present and speak at conferences," he said.

But the drug industry's strategy involves significantly more than the payment of consulting fees. There is an entire practice built up around cultivating KOLs and using them to greatest effectiveness.

An article published in the industry magazine Pharmaceutical Marketing promises to reveal the "tricks of the trade" for making KOLs into "product champions." The first step is to "evaluate [the] views and influence potential" of doctors who might make good KOLs. The article stresses that companies should not target just senior doctors who are already influential, but also doctors "who may be further down the influence ladder." In the latter case, the company should then work to "raise their profile, and so develop them into opinion leaders."

After developing relationships with current or potential KOLs, drug companies are advised to supply them with "appropriate communications platforms" to "communicate on your behalf" with patients, doctors and the public in general.

As part of this practice, KOLs may be paid up to $400 per hour for giving presentations at conferences - presentations that have often been prepared ahead of time by the drug companies and take place at company or industry-sponsored "educational" events. A single "scientific speech" may net a doctor over $3,000, and some popular KOLs may make more than $25,000 per year from advisory fees alone.

Elliot emphasized the importance of these practices to maintaining company profits.

"There are a lot of physicians who don't believe what we as drug representatives say," she explained. "If we have a KOL stand in front of them and say the same thing, they believe it."

Elliot regularly paid KOLs $2,500 per lecture. These payments were sometimes concealed by having the drug company pay an academic center, which would then make a separate payment to the doctor.

Another key component of the drug industry's strategy is keeping track of KOLs and evaluating their performance. Failing to do so, the Pharmaceutical Marketing article warns, can lead the company to "[waste] money on the wrong people."

A company called KOL actually specializes in helping drug companies with this function, even offering software custom-made for the purpose. The company's Web site highlights the degree of influence wielded by KOLs: although "thought leaders ... may not write many prescriptions, [they can] influence thousands of prescribers and hence prescriptions through their research, lectures, publications and their participation on advisory boards, committees, editorial boards, professional societies and guideline/consensus document development."

According to Elliot, such doctors forfeit their independence when they agree to take money to promote a corporate message.

"These people are paid a lot of money to say what they say," she said. "I'm not saying the key opinion leaders are bad, but they are salespeople just like the sales representatives are."

Tiner agreed with this appraisal.

"When these people are receiving a fee, they are in one sense in the employment of the company," he said.

At the end of the day, however, Tiner sees nothing wrong with the practice. He rejects the accusation made by many pharmaceutical industry critics that drug companies are bribing doctors to push their products.

"I don't think they are bribes," he said. "It's payment for work done, rather than a bribe."

He did agree that practices such as paying doctors to give presentations at conferences "might help to promote a particular medicine." The way to avoid letting paid KOLs have undue influence, he said, is more transparency. Companies should make it a regular practice to disclose any fees they have paid to speakers or other presenters at conferences or medical meetings.

David Blumenthal of Harvard University, who specializes in studying the connection between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry, agreed that there is nothing illegal or even necessarily crooked about the practice of cultivating company KOLs. But he disagreed with Tiner's assessment that the practice is harmless. While paying KOLs is not necessarily corrupt, he said, it does run contrary to the public interest.

"I think these are legal relationships between consenting adults who have overlapping interests that are not consistent with the interests of the larger society," Blumenthal said,
"or necessarily with the patients served by these physicians."

Elliot advises doctors to remain skeptical of presentations that they see at conferences and educational events, especially those related to drugs or medical devices.

"Take them with a grain of salt," she said, "and go back and do your own research."

Sources for this story include: www.bmj.com.

Get breaking news alerts on GMOs, fluoride, superfoods, natural cures and more...
Join over four million monthly readers. Email privacy 100% protected. Unsubscribe at any time.

Have comments on this article? Post them here:

comments powered by Disqus

Take Action: Support NaturalNews.com

Email this article to a friend

Permalink to this article:

Reprinting this article: Non-commercial use OK, cite NaturalNews.com with clickable link.

Embed article link: (copy HTML code below):
Most Popular
Today | Week | Month | Year

See all Top Headlines...


Now Available at ShopNaturalNews.com

O3 Essentials OraJuvenate™
A powerful, cleansing dental cream for maximum oral/dental health.
New Cancer Solutions
Over 3 hours of content covering today’s best cancer tests, how to kill cancer cells and the best diets and exercise routines.
Freeze-Dried 100% Organic Whole Corn
Our freeze-drying method preserves taste, texture and nutrients better than any other food preservation method ever invented.
Fenix TK35 Flashlight
Tough, waterproof, extremely bright and it’s touted to throw an 800+ lumen beam more than 1,000 feet into the night.
Inca Treasure Smoothie Pack
This pack of our four most popular superfoods from South America is the perfect combo pack for smoothie lovers.
Pink Himalayan Salt
This salt delivers significant levels of magnesium, zinc and selenium, with trace levels of dozens of other elements.
Pinhole Glasses - Aviator Style
Pinhole glasses are becoming famous for helping people improve their vision without the risks of laser surgery.
Oxy-Rich Facial Serum
O3 Essentials Jojoba Oxy-Rich Facial Serum is cellular nourishment for your skin. Helps smooth fine lines while enhancing tissue elasticity.
Freeze-Dried 100% Blackberry Halves
Our freeze-dried blackberry halves are grown in Serbia under strict organic standards.

Also on NaturalNews:

Health Ranger Videos
Activist music
CounterThink Cartoons
Food documentaries
FREE Special Reports
Colloidal Silver

Advertise with NaturalNews...

Support NaturalNews Sponsors:

Advertise with NaturalNews...

Most Popular Stories

Flu shot kills 19-year-old, but vaccine industry still has total immunity against lawsuits
Here's a nutty fact: Eating more tree nuts lowers the risk of all-cause death by up to 20 percent
Six important facts you're not being told about lost Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 now clearly a government cover-up: All evidence contradicts official story
10 other companies that use the same Subway yoga mat chemical in their buns
BLM fracking racket exposed! Armed siege and cattle theft from Bundy ranch really about fracking leases
High-dose vitamin C injections shown to annihilate cancer
U.S. treating meat with ammonia, bleach and antibiotics to kill the '24-hour sickness'
USDA to allow U.S. to be overrun with contaminated chicken from China
Vaccine fraud exposed: Measles and mumps making a huge comeback because vaccines are designed to fail, say Merck virologists
Battle for humanity nearly lost: global food supply deliberately engineered to end life, not nourish it
Diet soda, aspartame linked to premature deaths in women

25 Amazing Facts About Food

This FREE downloadable report unveils a collection of astonishing and little-known facts about the food we eat very day. Click here to read it now...


Resveratrol and its Effects on Human Health and Longevity - Myth or Miracle.

Unlock the secrets of cellular health with the "miracle" nutrient Resveratrol Click here to read it now...


Nutrition Can Save America

FREE online report shows how we can save America through a nutrition health care revolution. "Eating healthy is patriotic!" Click here to read it now...

The Healing Power of Sunlight and Vitamin D

In this exclusive interview, Dr. Michael Holick reveals fascinating facts on how vitamin D is created and used in the human body to ward off chronic diseases like cancer, osteoporosis, mental disorders and more. Click here to read it now...

Vaccines: Get the Full Story

The International Medical Council on Vaccination has released, exclusively through NaturalNews.com, a groundbreaking document containing the signatures of physicians, brain surgeons and professors, all of which have signed on to a document stating that vaccines pose a significant risk of harm to the health of children. Click here to read it now...

Health Ranger Storable Organics

GMO-free, chemical-free foods and superfoods for long-term storage and preparedness. See selection at www.StorableOrganics.com

Recommended Resources On:

Natural News trends
Health Ranger news
Natural News GMOs
Mike Adams tracker
Natural News photos
Natural News Global
Natural News in focus
Natural News connect
Natural News shocking stories
Natural News radar
Health freedom
Dr. Paul Offit

This site is part of the Natural News Network © 2014 All Rights Reserved. Privacy | Terms All content posted on this site is commentary or opinion and is protected under Free Speech. Truth Publishing International, LTD. is not responsible for content written by contributing authors. The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Truth Publishing assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms and those published here. All trademarks, registered trademarks and servicemarks mentioned on this site are the property of their respective owners.

eTrust Pro Certified Android app on Google Play

Sign up for the FREE Natural News Email Newsletter

Receive breaking news on GMOs, vaccines, fluoride, radiation protection, natural cures, food safety alerts and interviews with the world's top experts on natural health and more.

Join over 7 million monthly readers of NaturalNews.com, the internet's No. 1 natural health news site. (Source: Alexa.com)

Your email address *

Please enter the code you see above*

No Thanks

Already have it and love it!

Natural News supports and helps fund these organizations:

* Required. Once you click submit, we will send you an email asking you to confirm your free registration. Your privacy is assured and your information is kept confidential. You may unsubscribe at anytime.