Banning Pharmaceutical Sales Representative Access to Physicians
Pharmaceutical companies are held legally and financially accountable for making sure their drugs are used appropriately and that physicians and patients are aware of and understand the risks associated with their prescription drugs.
Product liability litigation against pharmaceutical companies often feature how the pharmaceutical company insufficiently or inaccurately informed physicians (often highlighting what the sales representative said or didn’t say and the brochure used) about the appropriate use of products (right patients, right dose) or communicated misleading understatements or outright omissions of the risks associated with prescribing those drugs. Companies who can demonstrate they did everything they could to accurately and comprehensively inform the prescribing physician, especially about the risks involved in the plaintiff claims, are generally afforded some degree of legal protection under what is called the “learned intermediary” doctrine.
An increasing number of healthcare systems, hospitals, and academic medical centers are banning pharmaceutical sales representatives from their institutions. Some group practices and even individual physicians are also placing restrictions on pharmaceutical representatives. The intent is often to control the influence of sales representatives on physician prescribing but also to preclude representatives from distracting physicians and consuming practice time with interactions that are perceived to have little or no value.
Whatever the reason for limiting sales rep access to physicians, I am wondering how pharmaceutical companies could possibly be expected to fulfill and demonstrate their “duty to warn” responsibilities when institutions and physicians have decided to ignore and outright refuse one of the historically most effective means of communicating product information. Will the package insert information now be the basis for appropriately “informing” the medical community and satisfy the “learned intermediary” doctrine?
Again, I am not a lawyer but I wonder what the courts and patients are going to say when a pharmaceutical company facing a “failure to warn” product liability charge demonstrates that their package insert clearly delineates the appropriate use and potential risks and they did everything they could to get the information to the physician but they were banned or denied access. What are physicians going to tell their suing patients when the pharmaceutical company representatives testify that they tried repeatedly to get time with the treating physicians to discuss the risks and benefits of the drug but were prohibited by policy and rejected at the office or hospital.
If healthcare systems and physicians make the decision not to include pharmaceutical company representatives in their drug education process are they also assuming more liability when pharmaceutical companies defend themselves by demonstrating that healthcare systems and physicians “chose” not to be informed or educated by the company? They may in fact feel this is no big deal, they’ll just do their own educating. But if physicians and healthcare systems assume this responsibility and take the deep pockets of the pharmaceutical company “off the table” , are they really ready to assume the financial consequences or will patients seeking compensation and their lawyers be less quick to file these product liability suits?