Recently, the drug manufacturer Merck disclosed information showing that in the summer of 2009, it paid $3.7 million to doctors and nurses for giving talks to colleagues about Merck products and health issues. Merck is the second major drugmaker to disclose such payments.
There has been a flurry of criticism by media and lawmakers over what appears to be excessive influence over doctors by drug and medical device makers. In the past, companies tried to gain favor with doctors through wining and dining them. However, since Janary 2009, industry guidelines have barred providing expensive meals, trips and gifts. In addition, major hospitals and universities are reviewing their internal policies regarding what staff doctors can accept, and what they must disclose.
According to Merck, the payment data that is discloses on its website, "shines a light" and addresses a misunderstanding about the relationship between doctors and the industry. Merck says that its programs are balanced and cover a variety of issues, including new research and improving patient care.
Critics argue that disclosing payments is a step in the right direction, but is not enough by itself. They see the compensated talks as paid-for marketing for a particular drug or treatment. Such critics urge medical schools and professional medical societies to be a more influential force in teaching doctors about new products.