ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gifted Doctors

Can the Medical Council of India effectively end the practice of drug companies giving freebies to doctors?

After nearly two years of discussions, the Medical Council of India (MCI) has decided on penalties for doctors found accepting gifts worth more than Rs 1,000 from pharmaceutical companies. It has prescribed punishments ranging from fines to suspension of licences for doctors found to have accepted gifts, travel facilities or any other form of hospitality from the drug industry. Endorsing a pharmaceutical product could lead to permanent removal of the doctor’s name from the medical register and there are also plans to publish the details on its web site including the names of the doctor and the drug company. The proposals are now awaiting the approval of the health ministry at the centre.

The concern about the aggressive marketing activities of pharmaceutical companies influencing doctors’ prescriptions and the tangible and intangible effects these could have on patients has been a long-standing one. From free letterheads and pens to all-expenses paid evenings out and foreign trips for his or her family, drug companies are known to relentlessly woo the physician. This state of affairs is well known. However, as with any other proposal to deal with a situation that has layers of complicity and is fluid enough to escape straight roadblocks, this one too is fraught with problems of implementation. The MCI shows over 5.5 lakh doctors on its registers and it is the state medical councils that will have to actually implement the punitive measures. Will they be able to police individual members? Again, as with any other malpractice that is legally prohibited, there is always the possibility that such wrongdoing too will be driven underground.

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