GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said today it will stop paying its sales reps based on the number of prescriptions they persuade doctors to write, and “begin a consultative process towards” stopping paying doctors to promote its products or even discuss diseases those products are designed to attack.
GSK’s actions come more than a year after the pharma giant pleaded guilty to U.S. Department of Justice charges of improper practices and agreed to pay a $3 billion fine, and just a few months after the Chinese government accused the company of bribing physicians, hospitals, and government officials in return for their prescribing its drugs. An investigation by Chinese authorities led to a 61% drop in sales of products in China during the third quarter.
“We believe that it is imperative that we continue to actively challenge our business model at every level to ensure we are responding to the needs of patients and meeting the wider expectations of society,” GSK’s CEO Sir Andrew Witty said in a statement. “[The changes] are designed to bring greater clarity and confidence that whenever we talk to a doctor, nurse or other prescriber, it is patients’ interests that always come first.
GSK said it will end its practice of paying sales reps who work directly with prescribing healthcare professionals based on how they meet individual sales targets. Instead, the company said, it will evaluate and reward its sales force based on “their technical knowledge, the quality of the service they deliver to support improved patient care and the overall performance of GSK’s business.”
GSK said it will begin implementing the new compensation system “in certain countries” starting next month, with the goal of being in all countries where the company does business by early 2015. The company said in 2011 it had ended its practice of tying bonuses to prescription sales.
Additionally, GSK said it will begin moving toward ending direct payments to healthcare professionals for speaking engagements and attendance at medical conferences, in favor of “developing its multi-channel capability and alternative approaches,” including use of digital technologies, toward providing them with product information and support for “fair, balanced and objective “ medical education “through provision of independent educational grants.”
To that end, the company said, it will stop providing direct financial support to healthcare professionals toward attending medical conferences.
However, GSK insisted it will continue to provide “appropriate fees for services” to healthcare professionals for GSK sponsored clinical research, advisory activities and market research.
“These activities are essential in providing GSK with insights on specific diseases; identification of symptoms and diagnosis; application of clinical trial data or medication dosage and administration; and how to effectively and appropriately communicate the benefits and risks of its medicines to help meet patient needs,” the company stated.
GSK said it would begin its consultation with professionals early in the new year, with the intent of working through the practical details of the changes with healthcare professionals, medical organizations and patient interest groups. The company plans to implement its new policies across GSK’s global operations by the start of 2016.
“We recognize that we have an important role to play in providing doctors with information about our medicines, but this must be done clearly, transparently and without any perception of conflict of interest,” Sir Andrew added.
In October 2012, the company settled charges that it improperly promoted its Paxil and Wellbutrin antidepressants for unapproved uses, and failed to report safety data about the diabetes drug Avandia. At the time, the company agreed to the largest settled fine of any pharma giant under the False Claims or whistleblower act.