Australian nurses have attended more than 46,000 events run by pharmaceutical companies in four years, a study has found.
Researchers led by the University of Sydney downloaded all available reports for pharmaceutical industry-sponsored educational events for health practitioners from the Medicines Australia website over the four years to September 2015.
Medicines Australia, which represents the pharmaceutical industry, has published details about these events every six months since 2007 in response to a push from consumer groups for more transparency about the relationships between drug companies and doctors.
There are concerns that industry-sponsored educational events can lead to healthcare professionals being influenced to use particular medical devices or drugs.
The researchers found that Australian pharmaceutical companies had sponsored more than 116,845 events for health professionals in the four-year period. At least one nurse was present at nearly 39.6% of events, which was twice as often as GPs. It is the first time quantitative data on nurse interactions with pharmaceutical companies has been published.
According to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, there are 271,423 practising registered nurses in Australia, of which 1,380 are permitted to prescribe medicines.
The lead author of the study, Quinn Grundy from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins centre, said as well as occasionally prescribing drugs, nurses made decisions about how to treat and dress wounds, and how to manage chronic conditions.
“While the pharmaceutical industry’s targeting of doctors and specialists has received a lot of media attention, these findings confirmed a lot of my suspicions that the industry is quite interested in nurses,” Grundy said.
“This is important because nurses have a big role to play in medication compliance, they make decisions on things like wound care or medical devices, and if they are getting a lot of their information from pharmaceutical companies, they might be biased towards particular products, or a more drug-focused care regime.”
Her study concluded that the high prevalence of nurses’ attendance at industry events suggested that transparency regulation and conflict of interest management should routinely include nurses as well as doctors.
Justin Coleman, a GP and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners representative on the Medicines Australia transparency working group, said nurses “do have significant input” into patient care.
“In hospitals nurses are generally the key decision-makers as to which brands of surgical equipment and wound care products are used and purchased by the hospitals,” he said.
“There is a constant tension, then, between independently deciding some dressing or equipment does well and is a quarter of a cost of the more heavily marketed one.
“The difficulty is the voices in the room will say, ‘I hear that this particular wound dressing is slightly better, so it’s worth spending four times the cost on it’.
“The problem is budgets go through the roof and far more is spent on fancy stuff that might only have a slightly greater benefit rather than on good, old-fashioned, tried-and-true stuff.”
The study was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Tuesday.
Posted by Glen Richards