Pharmaceutical companies identify physicians, as early as during residency, as "Key Opinion Leaders" or "KOLs". These relationships are nurtured in a variety of settings and may culminate in consulting or speaking fees. GlaxoSmithKline Plc ("GLAXO") reportedly paid U.S. doctors about $15 Million in 2014 to promote and learn about their product lines.
Bloomberg Business reported on June 30, 2015, in "Glaxo Paid Doctors $15 Million Before Promised End to Fees", by Oliver Stanley, that GLAXO continued to pay physicians to promote their products despite previously announcing that it was working to end such payments by 2016. Citing examples, Bloomberg Business identified the following payments:
According to Bloomberg Business, GLAXO is not alone in reporting significant payments to physicians. In fact, Pfizer, Inc., reported at least $53.3 Million in 2014 in non-research outlays to doctors, with other Pharmaceutical Giants Merck & Co. paying a reported $27.5 Million and AstraZeneca Plc spending $72.5 Million.
GLAXO claims that it will be replacing the current "doctor-payment system" with "digital, personal and real-time applications" by the start of 2016 to provide information to medical professionals. Past history reveals that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration ("FDA") will have to approve, to some extent, how these interfaces work. On this note, the FDA has historically been slow to provide necessary formal guidances to companies leaving them to execute strategies by trial and error in the case of social media.
The Bloomberg Business story did not escape scrutiny by industry analyst FIERCE PHARMA. CarlyHelfand also weighed in noting that the company had publicly vowed to end doctor payments but little appears to have changed. Helfand’s story, "Sworn To End Doc Payments by 2016, GSK Still Shelled Out $15M Last Year", provides important historical backstory to why GLAXO made the public vow. In the U.S., GLAXO has recently agreed to pay $3 Billion dollars to settle a federal investigation into its sales and marketing. Abroad, in China, the company was accused of funneling $489 Million to healthcare professionals through travel agents. As a result, GLAXO’s public promise to replace the doctor-payment sytem has not been forgotten and remains tied to past controversies in the U.S. and abroad.