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Drug Logo Overdose

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, January 23, 2008
The pens on the reception desk at my doctor's office, which is part of a large Massachusetts health system, are emblazoned with logos. Ditto for the clipboard the receptionist uses to check me in, the educational posters in the waiting area, and the little rubber hammer the doctor uses to test my reflexes. Clocks, sticky notes, prescription pads, stress balls, mugs--all have prominent logos on them. But they aren't branded to the practice or even the health system (which has a very spiffy logo, in fact). No, these items are all branded to the pharmaceutical companies that want my doctor to prescribe their drugs to me.

On my last visit, while waiting to get my blood drawn, I sat in a make-shift waiting area that was crammed to the rafters with boxes of freebies from drug companies. This wasn't a sample closet--or even a sample walk-in closet--it was a sample studio apartment. And when they called me in to get my blood drawn, they handed me a squishy ball with--well, you know what was on the squishy ball.

I couldn't help but notice it and wonder why on earth my doctor would want or need all these silly and tacky items. Surely the cost of pens and sticky notes and mugs couldn't be that exorbitant, could it? Could it be worth the cost to her image? Worth the cost of my questioning whether she's looking out for me or the well-dressed drug company rep in the waiting room?

SMDC Health System in Duluth, MN, put a price on all of those freebies the drug companies handed out each year: $100,000. That's how much they decided it would take them to buy their own pens and whiteboards and a long list of other items. And SMDC's administrators decided that $100,000 was a fair price to pay for office supplies that don't scream drug companies can buy us off with cheap trinkets.

"This shows people we're not in the pharmaceutical companies' back pockets," Kenneth Irons, chief of community clinics for SMDC, told the Star-Tribune.

Many practices, hospitals, and health systems have already banned doctors from accepting free lunches and trips and other big ticket items that patients can't actually see. But the SMDC policy goes a step further, getting rid of the logo-packed perks that patients can't help but notice.

And kudos to them: In cleaning out all the drug company freebies, they also made sure that their own image remained untarnished.

Thinking of just saying no to drug company logos and other perks? Consider these sources:

  • Learn more about SMDC's decision to say no to logos.
  • No Free Lunch is a nonprofit group of practitioners who oppose drug company freebies. They offer, among other things, a pen amnesty program.
  • Healthy Skepticism is another nonprofit group that aims to improve health by reducing harm from misleading drug promotion.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.

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