Doctors filmed taking favors from pharma companies to use their drugs

Channel 10 probe on ‘pay for play’ shakes health system.

Long empty hospital corridor (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Long empty hospital corridor (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The health system was turned upside down following a Channel 10 investigation about alleged malfeasance by hospital physicians and company representatives.
The Source (Hamakor) program investigation by Raviv Drucker and his team video-recorded senior physicians, and women serving as company agents, who allegedly made deals for bonuses, all-expense-paid trips to medical conventions abroad and other gifts if they prescribed their company’s drugs rather than those of its competitors. None of the faces was identifiable or their names given.
The Knesset State Control Committee has scheduled an urgent debate about the issue for Monday.
According to the evidence shown on Wednesday night, physicians in a variety of hospitals actively sought the favor of the drug lobbyists who freely looked at medical files to see which physicians did or did not prescribe their products, and who arranged “prizes” for those who did.
It was also alleged that doctors who went abroad at the companies’ expense gave very short lectures on drugs using PowerPoint presentations produced by the companies.
One company representative even claimed that some doctors sexually harassed representatives in exchange for prescribing their drugs, for which the lobbyists are very well paid.
The team interviewed Prof. Roni Gamzu, director-general of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, a former director-general of the Health Ministry and head of the health basket committee that just finished making its recommendations for 2018; he said he was shocked by what he saw on the screen and had not been aware of such goings-on.
Prof. Jonathan Halevy, Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s director-general who was chairman of the basket committee four times, was also appalled by the findings. He said he didn’t think the alleged deals were the norm in hospitals, but added that some medical society specialists asked to give their opinions on drug candidates for the basket sometimes used the exact same language, attesting to the fact that they used the companies’ information instead of giving their own views. Halevy insisted that all dealings between doctors and lobbyists about financial and other benefits should be kept completely separate.
Israel Medical Association chairman Prof. Leonid Eidelman, who is head of the anesthesiology department at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus, said he had never encountered such deals and that the IMA’s ethics board, headed by Dr Tami Karni, has “never received such a complaint” about physicians and drug company lobbyists. His trips to conferences abroad are “paid for by funds in our department.”
If people complained to Channel 10, “why didn’t they complain to our ethics board?” Eidelman said. “We have the option of canceling violators’ membership in the IMA and other sanctions.”
Eidelman noted, however, that it was mandatory for Israeli physicians, not only those working in hospitals, to participate not only in local medical conferences but also in those held abroad. “There are new techniques, drugs and technologies that doctors have to familiarize themselves with by talking to doctors and scientists abroad. We can’t do all of that from here. Without travel to conferences, Israeli medicine won’t advance.”
The IMA chief said that years ago, he proposed to the Health Ministry that it set up a fund to cover the expenses of doctors’ participation in conferences abroad, with funding coming from the Treasury and drug companies, but that no contact be made between the doctors and companies about the trips. But he said the ministry was “apathetic and didn’t even respond.”
The ministry spokesman did not respond to The Jerusalem Post’s questions by press time.