Glaxo will stop paying doctors for speaking gigs in industry-leading change

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Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline will stop paying healthcare professionals to speak about its products, and will alter other marketing and compensation practices that are common in the industry but derided by critics, the company announced Tuesday.

Like many other drug makers, Glaxo has paid physicians and other healthcare professionals to speak about its products and to attend conferences. The theory has been that prescribers will trust their peers more than a sales representative, but the practice arguably incentivized doctors to advocate for products that may not have been as safe or effective as the pharmaceutical company claimed.

Glaxo also is ending the practice of compensating its sales force based in part on how many prescriptions doctors write for the company's drugs. This practice has led to cases of sales reps pushing physicians to inappropriately prescribe medications, sometimes for off-label uses.

Both these practices were at play in a recent $2 billion legal settlement involving the way a Glaxo rival, Johnson & Johnson, promoted the use of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal in long-term care facilities. In that case, sales representatives encouraged prescribers to use Risperdal in dementia care, even though the drug had only gained formal approval as a schizophrenia treatment. The federal government also alleged that J&J paid speaker fees to physicians on the condition that they increase their Risperdal prescribing.  

Glaxo already had implemented some of these changes in the United States, but will now expand them worldwide. Its competitors may follow suit, according to The New York Times. This is in part because drug companies will have to disclose payments to physicians starting next year, under the Affordable Care Act.