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Pharmaceutical companies' "sales reps": not to be relied on when it comes to quality of care

The French National Authority for Health (HAS) has made it clear to the healthcare community that it cannot control sales reps’ visits, which are a key means  that pharmaceutical companies use to promote their products.

In 2004, the French National Authority for Health (HAS) was put in charge of monitoring the application of a "sales reps’ charter" signed by the pharmaceutical trade association (LEEM) and France’s Economic Committee on Healthcare Products (Comité économique des produits de santé or CEPS).

At the end of 2009, the HAS published a preliminary report of its findings. It highlights some improvements, including fewer gifts and samples, fewer invitations to take part in studies (often more marketing-oriented than scientific). But the HAS also underlines the fact that pharmaceutical companies have other opportunities to continue these promotional activities via unregulated methods, such as sales calls by telephone and email.

Above all, the HAS concludes that it makes no sense to regulate sales reps’ visits without regulating their content: what the pharmaceutical companies’ reps actually say to the healthcare professionals.

The HAS is therefore calling for additional regulation, particularly a blanket ban on all gifts. It points out the illusory nature of trying to monitor sales reps’ visits through a mere charter.

The HAS has, to its credit, made clear to the French public and politicians that it is unable to regulate the situation as it stands.

It is up to healthcare professionals to refuse visits from sales reps, which is the most effective and least costly solution for the public purse.

 ©Prescrire 1 October 2010

"The French medical sales charter: ineffective" Prescrire Int 2010 ; 19 (109) : 235. (Pdf, free)

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