4 Corners or 4 Circles?

Two brilliantly interwoven stories over the last ten days or so have given the ABC and Fairfax media plenty of fodder to attack pharmacists and the complementary medicine industry.
In the first instance, pharmacists came under fire over the allegation that having been “shadow shopped” by Choice reporters over the question of the best options for stress, they didn’t follow the “model” procedure (whatever that is as having been decided by the Choice reporters).
In the second instance, complementary medicine manufacturers and marketers were denigrated as being unregulated, and by default, pharmacists were dragged into this melee.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • The complementary medicines industry operates within one of the most tightly regulated systems in the world.
  • The Australian regulatory regime for complementary medicines is such that it is viewed by most countries as the consumer protection benchmark.
  • About 70% of Australians use complementary medicines. Do they feel that they are being duped? If they do, why don’t they stop buying them?
  • The TGAs performance statistics reports do not currently categorize non-compliance issues into risk categories. This is providing industry critics with the ability to misrepresent the true level of non-compliance and the subsequent risk to consumers.
  • A quick search of say PubMed for any particular particular her will produce dozens of scientific studies linking these products to research on a wide range of health conditions.
  • Australia has world class academic and research bodies, including two 5-star accredited complementary medicines research centres.
  • A 2014 Frost & Sullivan report “Targeted Use of Complementary Medicines: Potential Health Outcomes and Cost Savings in Australia shows that annual hospitalization costs and productivity gains of A$1.8 billion.
  • Less that one per cent of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funds have been allocated to complementary medicine research over the last ten years.

The most interesting comment, conveniently ignored by all the players, and too politically sensitive for either the Pharmacy Guild or PSA to introduce, is that of an ABC report on the marketing of the novel anti-coagulants. The ABC revealed that in just six months, $2.6 million was spent on doctors to market these new drugs.

The “celebrities” in this case were haematologists and other medical specialists (who Big Pharma call “key opinion leaders”). $185,000 was spent flying 25 of them to Vienna, and $86,000 paid for six to go to Canada.

They came back home to run sponsored journal clubs in hospitals, speak to thousands of GPs at dinners, and giving interviews to the media to promote how “old hat” it was for GPs to prescribe plain old warfarin!

As with the celebrity endorsed vitamins, the celebrity endorsement played its part in a huge upsurge in sales.

The NOACs jumped right to the top tiers of PBS spending and will sit there until the excitement wears off, non-sponsored research catches up, and it’s time for the celebrities to move on to the next big thing.

The sad part of all this is that the interest of the patient are ignored in our arguments comparing the interests of big Pharma and the constant whining of Friends of Science in Medicine, membership of which is about 90% academia.

Maybe these two groups should start seeing patients, and seeking ways to improve their quality of life.

Maybe the patient doesn’t matter any more?

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