When an AstraZeneca salesman invited doctors to a Clearwater restaurant recently to learn about gastroesophageal reflux disease - and, presumably, the role his company's Nexium can play in alleviating heartburn caused by GERD - a competitor cried foul.
The pharmaceutical industry has adopted new guidelines for interacting with doctors, a competing drug rep complained. And one of the rules is that doctors are not to be paid for attending an educational program.
At the Clearwater presentation, held in late January, doctors were offered a $100 Medsite voucher for participating. Medsite is a medical supply Web site where health professionals can order items such as stethoscopes and medical books using their vouchers.
Marc Matherne, the local AstraZeneca rep who sponsored the dinner, said the meeting complied with the industry's guidelines, which allow doctors to be given items worth $100 or less if they primarily benefit patients. Matherne's invitation even included a gentle reminder to doctors that, under the new guidelines, spouses and guests do not get free meals.
While Matherne defended his right to woo doctors to a dinner meeting with $100 vouchers, he saw nothing ironic in his choice of restaurants: For the discussion of heartburn and its treatment, Matherne chose India Garden restaurant on Gulf-to-Bay. While the AstraZeneca Web site says spicy foods such as lamb vindaloo do not cause GERD, it concedes they seem to worsen its symptoms.
"I chose the restaurant because my moderator was an Indian physician and my target audience was Indian doctors," Matherne said. "And in fact, the food was not spicy at all."