“Despite the recent publicity about ethical problems in relationships between physicians and the pharmaceutical industry,…physicians continue to have a rather permissive view about a variety of marketing activities.” Thus concluded Allan S. Brett, MD, Wayne Burr, MD, and Jamaluddin Moloo, MD, MPH, in an article on the results of a study exploring physicians' attitudes toward gifts from pharmaceutical companies published in the October 13, 2003, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The authors surveyed residents and faculty at a U.S. medical school to find out where docs believe the line should be drawn when it comes to pharma gifts and perks, including meetings. They posed a series of “ethical scenarios,” such as a drug rep offering free pens engraved with the name of a drug, and asked if each scenario was problematic. On a scale of 0 (not problematic) to 3 (very problematic), only gifts of golf balls, trips to resorts, and potentially biased speakers at grand rounds and dinner/lectures scored more than a 1 for both groups. The resort trip was the most troubling ethically (between mildly and moderately problematic), with mean scores of 1.79 for residents and 1.72 for faculty.

The survey didn't find a lot of differences between residents and experienced physicians, but there were a few. For example, faculty found free lunch with a drug rep speaker more problematic than did residents, who didn't distinguish between a free lunch with some, minimal, or no interaction with a drug rep. Only half of the respondents thought social events were moderately or very problematic; and even fewer put pharma-sponsored lectures featuring potentially biased speakers in the moderately to very problematic range, even when the researchers threw a free lunch into the mix.