Thursday, May 17, 2007

'Round the Sphere: Bloggers Side with SiCKO (to a point and for now); Tongue-in-Cheek Free Lunch

Michael Moore's long-awaited documentary film SiCKO (why the lowercase "i"?), about the pharmaceutical-health-insurance-industry complex, is set to debut in Cannes this Saturday.

I wish I could be there, but I am temporarily without passport! So, I wrote an open letter to Moore and urged him to invite us bloggers to a special screening in NYC. If Centocor can do it with its film Moore should be able to as well! (See "Mr. Moore Don't Ignore: Please Invite Me to a Screening of Your Movie").

While I continue to advance the interests of pharma bloggers, other bloggers have pitched in with their own commentary on this film and Michael Moore.

Mark Senak, who confesses not to have seen any of Mike's films, nevertheless has some good advice on putting this movie into perspective:

"I would like to think that SiCKO is perhaps an opportunity for industry and for industry critics to do some soul-searching, asking the real tough questions about how people got to feeling the way they do about the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and what can be done about it. But for people on each side of the issue to spend time this summer calling the movie or its maker names isn't likely to advance anyone's image - industry or its critics." (See "The Summer of SiCKO - Cannes Film Festival Begins Today.")
This comment got a hearty "hear, hear" comment. Mark, if Moore takes my challenge and invites me to a special screening of SiCKO, I'll be sure to put in a good word for you as well.

Ed Silverman over at Pharmalot expressed a similar point of view:
"Getting beat up in a widely publicized movie isn't likely to make execs and their employees feel warm and fuzzy. Few people respond well to harsh criticism. So ignoring or chastising Moore and his film is likely to be a typical reaction. But that won't make the issues disappear. If anything, big pharma will only appear more defensive, and confirm impressions that critics say is all too real." (See "SiCKO Debuts At Cannes On Saturday").
Ed got some decidedly nasty comments, including this one, which brought the Holocaust into play:
"Occam's Beard says:

Sorry, don't mean to become a gadfly here, but I can't let this pass either without examining the logic.

Or has industry made it easy for him - and other critics - to pull out the long knives? This requires a gamut of people look in the mirror and ask why their industry is increasingly villified.

So unpopularity necessarily has a just basis that the unpopular would do well to reflect on and change their ways?

Perhaps that should be pointed out to German Jews, if you can find any. Demonizing the unpopular is child's play."
I am not sure this qualifies as a direct comparison of Moore's anticipated treatment of Pharma to German Nazi's' demonizing of jews, but there you have it! Occam must not be a proponent of the First Amendment!

Other bloggers in the Pharma BlogosphereTM posted reports about SiCKO, but had nothing new to add.

Meanwhile, the brouhaha over the Cupcake Caper (see "'Round the Sphere With Christiane Truelove") has morphed to a brouhaha about pharma free lunches to physicians and patients in general.

When Black Kitty first raised the issue of appropriate food to give to patients -- cupcakes didn't seem to meet BK's criteria of appropriate -- I thought this was worthy to follow up with some general guidelines of pharma's nascent free lunch for patients program (see "Guidelines for Gifts to Patients"). I had written on free lunch for patients before (see "Free lunch for patients! Why not?") and thought this was an appropriate topic to add on to.

But that story is history.

Pharma's Free Lunch for Physicians Program
What really hit a nerve is when I revisited pharma's practice of free lunch for PHYSICIANS and reported that 62% of respondents to a poll agreed that this practice should ceaase (see "Blog Readers' Opinions on Physician Marketing & Education Practices").

Sarah Palmer, Cafe Pharma webmaster, reminded me that such a poll is not statistically significant. I'm not questioning that -- Sarah and I are on good speaking terms now and I don't wish to reopen old issues. But I will say that in this new age of Web 2.0 and "The Wisdom of Crowds," online polls, rating score and opinions from readers, regardless of the statistical significance, will have an increasing impact on the pharmaceutical industry.

Some industry experts, like Bob Ehrlich, Chairman of DTC Perspectives, have even suggested that Blogs may some day rival DTC (direct to consumer) advertising in influencing consumers (see "Blogs vs. DTC: What's Best for Consumers?").

I think that's what he said. But you don't have to be satisfied with my interpretation. Mr. Ehrlich will be my guest on an upcoming Pharma Marketing Talk podcast on Thursday, May 24, 2007, 1 PM Eastern US time. You can access this podcast here.

Regarding my post about the poll that called for an end to pharma free lunch to physicians, I received a comment from an anonymous physician who said:
"I would just like to say that as a former intern and resident working 100-hour weeks while making less than $30K a year, a free lunch now and then was a godsend and brightened up otherwise long and dreary days."

"Seriously, though, I do understand why institutions are moving toward these 'No Free Lunch' things, but really, cut the scut workers a break every now and then. If you've been there, you know how it sucked and how a free lunch was like having recess."
Of course, I took him/her at his/her word and went on to post a little spoof about free lunch being more than just lunch (see "When is a Free Lunch More Than Just Lunch?").

The guy took all this too seriously: "Like I've said, I don't deny that there are issues, but in the world of pharma and medicine, this is such piddling nothing, I have a hard time understanding your obsession with it."

Chill out, dude. You need a Valium, not pizza! You are so full of yourself that YOU cannot recognize when someone else makes comments "with considerable tongue-in-cheek"!

But, you have to wonder, if free lunch was such a "piddling nothing," why does the drug industry spend so much on its "free lunch for physician" program (which I once estimated cost about $1.65 billion per year; see "Free Lunch Redux") and why do physicians like this get so worked up about criticism of the program? It obviously means a lot to them -- like a free entitlement that they will fight tooth and nail to maintain!

Of course, it's not just lunch; it's the golden key that gets reps in the physician's door (see chart above), which is closing to more and more drug reps. The industry itself recognizes it has only itself to blame -- Pfizer, for example, recently cut back the practice of "rep pods" by which a number of reps hit the same doctor with the same message until the doc caves in!

That's it for now. Go forth and explore the sphere!

1 comment:

. said...

Sorry, John. My reader somehow missed this post. I now understand the back story. I think your idea is a very good one. If Moore would entertain us, let us first watch the movie, then compile our thoughts, then sit with a panel of health care bloggers and let us ask him respectful questions. Lets only use facts and objective data. Let us please stop all these personal attacks. We all have huge egos that need feeding or we would not be bloggers. I am the first Kitty to admit this.

Clearly John, you are in general an articulate and fair voice, who tries to instigate meaningful discourse about important issues to health care consumers.

I certainly don't always agree with your positions, but I am always very thankful that you post them, and let me mouth off at you.

I won't tell you how great I think you are, because I don't want you to take it the wrong way :))

Love and Peace and Free Cannes Trip (yea!)

Dr. BK