Originally published March 13 2013
Medical students interact regularly with Big Pharma reps, study shows
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) In spite of new policies designed to limit the interaction that medical students have with pharmaceutical industry representatives, such contact remains widespread, according to a study conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital and published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
"In medical school and residency, as trainees are learning the fundamentals of their profession, there is a need to ensure the education they receive is as unbiased as possible," researcher Aaron Kesselheim said. "However, it is well known that promotional information and gifts from pharmaceutical companies can encourage non-evidence-based prescribing."
"Though many institutions have tried to insulate trainees from these effects, trainees' exposure to industry promotion is still quite high."
In the first survey of its kind, more than 2,000 medical students and residents representing every U.S. medical school were asked how often they interacted with pharmaceutical representatives, what kinds of gifts they received, and what influence they thought these gifts had on their education.
The researchers found that one-third of all first year students had received industry-sponsored gifts; among fourth-year students and residents the figure was higher than 50 percent. Gifts included food, beverages and meals, pens and note pads, clothing, drug samples, and educational materials.
In addition, 10 percent of fourth-year students and 20 percent of residents said they regularly relied on pharmaceutical representatives to learn about drugs, while 40 percent of fourth-year students and 36 percent of residents said they had attended at least one company-sponsored lecture.
Students aware they are being influencedAlthough the majority of students said they thought these interactions provided valuable education, a majority also believe that such interactions risk biasing them in favor of the companies. The farther in their medical education they were, the more trusting they were of drug companies and the more likely they were to say the information they received from the industry was useful.
Respondents were more likely to believe that other students were being biased by such interactions, while believing they themselves were remaining neutral.
Nevertheless, the majority of students said they supported policies to increase the restrictions on pharmaceutical company access to medical students and residents.
Although a recent study published in BMJ found that graduates of schools with stricter bans on industry interaction produced doctors who were more resistant to industry pitches, the current study found no such effect. This may be because conflict of interest policies are not being enforced, Kesselheim suggested, or because they have loopholes that pharmaceutical companies are exploiting.
For example, some schools ban companies from providing on-campus meals to students and residents, but have no policies about students accepting off-campus meals.
"All it does is move lunch from the conference room to the pizza place," Kesselheim said.
The study suggests that schools need to take another look at policies regulating contact between students and industry representatives, the researchers said.
"Medical schools and academic medical centers need to continue to work on separating students from industry promotion at this highly impressionable time in their professional development," researcher Kirsten Austad said.
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