Ethical Questions Raised When Patients Engaged in Sales

A new phenomena is beginning to blur the ethical line between patient and sales representatives.  It involves drug companies using patients with a given disease, most commonly hemophilia, to induce others with the same disease to buy certain medicines. This blurs the line between patient and salesperson, without disclosing the potential conflict of interest. Pharmaceutical companies believe that by hiring patients with a particular disease to sell a company product to others with the same disease, the company improves services by having someone who understands the patient from their own perspective. But if you ask some people, such a tactic simply seems mercenary.

On the one hand, only a patient who is taking a certain treatment can truly advise another patient about their experiences with that treatment. On the other hand, some patients have stopped attending support group meetings because they are having difficulty distinguishing between sales pitches and genuine patient experiences because of the growing use of patient representatives by pharmaceutical companies.  This is more disturbing still in that the benefit to the patient representative is rarely disclosed.  Some in the pharmaceutical industry have been prosecuted for taking patients out to dinner or buying them presents to solicit their business. In the past, this was a very common practice. However, drug companies and pharmacies are no longer allowed to do this; so, they seem to have moved on to the tactic addressed in the article herein summarized. Pharmaceutical companies are inserting themselves into a tightknit community of people with a particular disease and blurring the line between ethics and business practices.


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