Is a free cup of coffee in a conference exhibitor’s booth an inducement to prescribe?
Image by Omar_MK via Flickr
It was interesting to see exhibitors at the recent American Society of Hematology meeting place conspicuous signs in booths that had a café, alerting health care professionals that they should not ask for a free cup of coffee, tea or water if their licensing State, Government or Institution prohibited them from doing so.
Massachusetts and Vermont are two states that have recently banned health care professionals with prescribing authority from accepting anything of value directly from a pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer including food & drink where the gift is linked to promotional activities. Other states such as New Jersey may soon follow suit.
Manufacturers are businesses with products to promote. They try and attract health care professionals to stop by their exhibits by offering information, and in some cases comfortable seating or refreshments such as biscotti or small ice cream. Nobody raises any questions about the subsidy to the meeting costs that exhibitors effectively provide, yet the offer of a coffee, tea or water at a booth that a doctor, nurse or physician’s assistant voluntarily chooses to visit is now regarded as a “gift” that several states have banned.
To me, the pendulum has swung too far in the regulation of pharmaceutical promotional activity if people really think a health care professional is induced to prescribe based on a free coffee at a conference exhibit booth. It is rather insulting if regulators think a doctor can be so easily bought.
If fewer health care professionals visit the booths due to lack of chotckhes or refreshments, the day may well soon come when exhibitors begin downsizing their booths and paying less for the privilege. The end result in the long run may well be higher registration fees for all, including physicians.
Perhaps there should be a minimum value of “gift” that is regarded as ‘de minimis’ and exempt from oppressive regulation. Long live free coffee at conference exhibit booths!