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Doctors our most trusted profession but Australians believe they are manipulated by Big Pharma.

Doctor and baby Pic

Institute for 21st Century Problem Solving

The results of a recent survey which asked a representative cross section of 5360 Australians which professions garner their greatest trust probably hold few surprises for most social scientists. Doctors (in particular GP’s) and associated medical professionals are the most trusted¹. Table 1 below shows that with the exception of “sergeant of police” all others in the top five are medical professionals. In the bottom five, businessmen, trade union bosses and politicians hold four of the five spots.

Table 1

Which of the following professions do you trust the most?

(Choose your top five)

Top 5 Professions (trust)

 

Local GP (General Practitioner)

49%

Medical Specialist or Surgeon

37%

Pharmacist/Chemist

35%

Nursing Sister

32%

Police Sergeant

28%

 

Bottom 5 Professions (trust)

 

Local member of parliament

3%

Union representative

3%

Professional sporting coach

1%

Senior exec major Australian corporation

1%

Senior exec large international corporation

1%

However, what may be surprising and potentially alarming is the extent to which Australians see doctors manipulated by the pharmaceutical industry, which half believe is corrupt, even enlisting government to help push its products. (See Table 2 below).

Table 2

Do you believe or disbelieve the following statements?

 

Statement

 

Believe It (%)

Don’t

Believe it

(%)

Don’t

Know

(%)

Don’t

Want to      Know (%)

These days doctors are frequently influenced by the marketing and PR   used by drug companies to recommend drugs as the best solution to a problem a patient has.

67

23

7

2

Big Pharma is corrupt and has far too much influence over the medical profession.

46

15

34

5

Pharmaceutical companies in conjunction with the government try to scare people into having more medicines than they need simply to make more money

50

37

10

3

Much of the drug therapy for depression and ADD seems to make the patient worse not better.

39

36

22

3

People in Australia are feeling more and more powerless against big corporations and special interest groups

79

12

7

2

Most politicians appear to be more concerned with corporate interests than they are with the people who elected them.

75

17

5

3

*Sample base for each question is approximately 1050 in each of the three item rotation series. Survey conducted by Australian Opinion Research June-July 2013. (www.australianopinionresearch.info)

The pharmaceutical industry is no stranger to controversy with notable scandals such as VIOXX, Thalidomide and the Saben oral polio vaccine heading up a well-documented list of product withdrawals due to adverse effects not detected during Phase III clinical trials and only apparent from post marketing surveillance data from the wider patient community.²

Despite the industry’s best attempts, challenges to its bona fides continue unabated from many quarters.  For example, in 2010 two former Merck virologists turned whistleblowers (Krahling and Wlochowski) lodged a False Claims Act document in the Pennsylvania US District Court.³The document detailed their accusation of a deliberate falsification of efficacy rates for Merck’s mumps vaccine results. This was followed more recently by a landmark award by the court against the MMR vaccine to a family in Italy after the Italian Health Ministry conceded the MMR vaccine caused autism in their nine year old son.⁴

However, it is possible that this case is just the tip of the iceberg if one accepts the findings of a key article appearing in the British Medical Journal from leading medical academics Lexchin et al (2003).⁵The authors concluded on the basis of a review of Medline medical research database for the period January 1966 – December 2002 and Embase (a similar database) from January 1980 -December 2002, that “systematic bias favours products which are made by the company funding the research. Explanations include the selection of inappropriate comparators to the product being investigated and publication bias.”

Many commentators are now openly critical of the “revolving door” between regulators in the US, Australia and the UK and the drug companies. It is also notable that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the largest spenders on professional lobbyists with their teams of professional debunkers in addition to funding a substantial amount of academic research. Funding even extends to entire medical departments in some institutions.⁶

These tactics might be arguably skilled marketing  but they appear not to have gone unnoticed by a majority of Australians given their responses to the statements on the pharmaceutical industry set out in Table 2. Sadly, at the present time Australians do not see their government as being of much help in this regard and are feeling more and more alienated from the political process.

Notes:

  1. A total of 29 professions were rated by 5360 respondents to a large scale online survey conducted by social researchers Australian Opinion Research in June and July 2013. The survey was representative of all Australians 18+.
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_withdrawn_drugs; http://www.pharmacy.umn.edu/innovations/prod/groups/cop/@pub/@cop/@innov/documents/article/cop_article_415365.pdf
  3. False Claims Act document. Civil action No. 10 4374, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania lodged by Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski, August 27, 2010.
  4. Paul Bignell. June 17, 2012. U.K. Independent. Italian Court reignites MMR vaccine debate after award over child with autism.
  5. Lexchin J, Bero L A, Djulbegovic B & Clark O (2003) Pharmaceutical industry sponsorship and research outcome and quality: systematic review.  BMJ 2003:326:1167
  6. Hunter, Lewis: Crony Capitalism in America 2008-2012, 2013, Edinburg VA, AC₂ Books.

 

Acknowledgments

Institute for 21st Century Problem Solving wishes to thank Australian Opinion Research for supplying the results from their June-July Social Survey which is regularly reported on the Checkmate Analytics website.

© Copyright 2013: Institute for 21st Century Problem Solving

The Institute for 21st Century Problem Solving is social sciences research institute which was formed from a belief that the pursuit of the social good can also provide significant ongoing rewards for business and NGO’s without bankrupting us morally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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