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Doctors And Drug Reps Story: Your Emails And My Replies

Friday, 9 Nov 2007 | 12:09 PM ET

The surprising Vioxx settlement brought me back to the office today in the middle of my vacation--I could've literally phoned it in as I did on "Squawk Box" this morning, but as long as I was in town, I'm too hard core to stay at home working around the house when a big story like this one breaks on my beat.

So, in between what we call "hits" or reporter segments that I've been assigned today on the Merck story, I thought I'd make maximum use of my time and knock out this blog entry.

But it'll be an easy one because my inbox "runneth over" with viewer reaction to the piece that aired on "Business Nation" the other night about doctors pushing back against pharmaceuticals sales reps and drug company rebates. First of all, for those who emailed saying they missed the episode, forgot to TiVo it and asking when the show will re-air, you can catch it again on CNBC this Sunday, November 11th, at 9 p.m. ET.

John (no last name) wrote, "Thanks for putting this story together. It very effectively highlighted the severity of the moral hazard that pharma manufacturers and doctors are facing."

Ronald Dawson said, "I believe you are on to something. I live in Jefferson City Missouri and it recently came to my attention that many of the doctors and their staff in Jefferson City are being fed daily, breakfast and lunch by drug sales reps. Every day food is delivered. Is this a common practice around the country?"

Mr. Dawson, the answer to your question is yes. In fact, one of my contacts says some doctors advertise in the "Help Wanted" section by touting the fact that one of the perks is that staffers get free food. The doctors aren't buying it.

"Anonymous" sent an email making the following observation: "Doctors are educated people who should be able to make prescribing decisions on their own without a drug rep pressuring them to use "x" drug. The price of drugs could be reduced if companies did not have to pay for so many reps and so much marketing. They could use more of their money for R&D and still make a good profit."

Many of the major pharmas are downsizing their sales forces. But they argue that they need boots on the ground (or should I say high heels?) to drive sales and profits higher so they can plow more money back into R & D and, of course, keep shareholders happy.

And Stephen in Nashville wrote, "I am thankful to finally see this most serious problem addressed for once! You hear so much about the “healthcare crisis” and the rising costs of health insurance these days. There are REASONS and much of the reason is the incredible amount of “free perks” that Doctors receive for prescribing drugs that are promoted by reps."

But not all of the emails were favorable. Although we pointed out in the story that the industry no longer allows reps to take docs on junkets, grease them with free tickets to sporting events and the like, Annette Alt said we still had what she called "glaring errors" in the report . "...you missed the obvious benefit of the representatives that call on physicians. They do provide current clinical trial information, which does have the benefit of broadening the physician’s base of knowledge in the treatment options available. These clinical research trials are unbiased and used to further the knowledge of all clinical professionals.If you are truly trying to raise awareness in the health care arena, then do practice some journalistic integrity by including all of the relevant details."

And a viewer who may be named Kami Brooks (just going by the email address) really didn't like my reporting. "As I expected, completely sensationalized! FYI - We are not allowed to buy tickets, pay for airfare etc., and haven't been for a long time. I think you should give people more credit. The three former reps you had on your show clearly were disgruntled and gave a negative spin on Pharmaceutical companies. Do you think physicians have the time to read through each package insert to make sure they know what they are prescribing, side effects, precautions, interactions etc.? Who do you think pays for future medications to come to market? It's not your gov't. R & D comes directly from sales of existing medication, but, I guess that's not sexy enough for a news segment. Way to ride the wave of the current anti drug company push."

I tried surfing once in Hawaii and I do it a lot on the web. But I don't think I'm riding any wave.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com

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