NEWS1 June 2009

Massachusetts: surveys not subject to physician disclosure rules

Government Legal North America

US— Massachusetts has exempted research from regulations requiring the disclosure of payments to physicians – rules that threatened to derail much survey research in the state.

Official guidance from the state’s Department of Health explains that survey incentives will not be subject to the public reporting requirements, provided healthcare practitioners who receive the payments do not know who sponsored the study and that the sponsor is unaware of who participated.

The Marketing Research Association (MRA) had warned that the rules would make healthcare professionals less likely to participate in “vital survey research”, leading to lost jobs and income in the industry.

It welcomed the Massachusetts exemption last week as a victory for its lobbying and grassroots action, but warned of more threats on the horizon.

Research incentives to healthcare practitioners are frequently caught up in attempts at the state level to restrict “gifts” to practitioners from pharmaceutical, medical device and medical supply manufacturers. Such gifts are assumed to be buying influence on behalf of the manufacturers, the MRA said.

For instance, Vermont recently passed a new law banning gifts made by drugs companies to healthcare providers. Although the law doesn't specifically include survey incentives, MRA said the scope of the definition of ‘marketing’ is broad enough to encompass payments for participation in marketing research studies.

According to Casro (the Council of American Survey Research Associations), there are at present eight state laws, one federal bill and approximately 25 state bills that address the issue of payments made to doctors by drugs companies and medical device manufacturers.

Susan McDonald, the CEO of National Analysts and chair of Casro’s Pharma Task Force, said: “We recognise and endorse the need for prohibitions and transparency in order to eliminate undue influence by healthcare manufacturers on healthcare providers, but Casro also wants to make clear that responsible survey research that is conducted under our industry’s code of standards has no connection with – in fact, is antithetical to – undue influence practices.

“Compensating physicians for their time and expertise in responding to survey research does not constitute an attempt to exert undue influence. Therefore the same prohibitions and transparency requirements adopted to curb marketing abuses should not be applied to pharmaceutical market research.”