PHARMACEUTICAL companies will have to start revealing how much they pay individual doctors to attend overseas medical conferences and in speaking fees to deal with conflict of interest concerns.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has given the industry two years to come clean on the extent of the medical gravy train.
The industry already reports on the nearly $70 million it spends on wining and dining doctors at over 35,000 "education'' events each year.
However, it has not had to reveal how much it pays individual doctors when they speak at events or when they take first-class overseas trips.
A former drug-company saleswoman, Petra Helesic, revealed last year that individual doctors were earning up to $10,000 a year in speakers' fees and had first-class airfares and five-star hotel bills paid for when they attended overseas medical conferences. She claimed many doctors used the overseas airfare paid for by drug companies as part of a holiday.
There has been growing concern these types of payments involve a serious conflict of interest that may influence a doctor's opinions about a medication.
The ACCC yesterday approved the pharmaceutical industry's latest Code of Conduct that governs how it deals with medicos, but ticked it off for just two years instead of the five years the industry had sought. The watchddog says it wants further improvements in transparency about "payments and sponsorship made by pharmaceutical companies to individual healthcare professionals'' within two years.
"Improving transparency around payments to individual doctors will play an important role in promoting community confidence in the integrity of these payments to healthcare professionals,'' ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
A number of pharmaceutical companies in the United States are already publishing details of individual payments made to healthcare professionals. Drug company AstraZeneca earlier this year stopped paying for doctors to attend overseas conferences as it tried to combat conflict-of-interest concerns.
And three more of the world's biggest companies - Pfizer, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline - support the push to reveal how much individual doctors receive.
However, Sanofi Aventis fears it would discourage doctors from speaking at conferences and breach privacy laws.
Earlier this year, GSK became the first drug company in Australia to disclose that last year it had spent $2.2 million on doctors. More than $287,000 of this was spent on travel to overseas and local medical conferences.
Industry lobby group Medicines Australia earlier this year established a transparency working group involving doctors, drug companies and industry critics to work out how the industry would go about revealing how much they pay individual doctors.
"Our members are firmly committed to increasing transparency so that the nature of their relationships with doctors and consumers is open to scrutiny. Transparency is important because it builds public trust and confidence in those relationships,'' Medicines Australia chief Brendan Shaw said.