Is Marketing to Nurses a Conflict of Interest?

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Is Marketing to Nurses a Conflict of Interest?

Study raises concerns

By Working Nurse
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Like physicians, nurses often have contact with the manufacturers of medications, devices and other healthcare-related products. While we tend to dismiss those interactions as inconsequential, a new study warns that financial conflicts of interest may be just as common — and just as potentially worrisome — for nurses as they are for doctors.

Sales Pitches and Free Gifts

The study, published in the April 5 online edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at industry marketing efforts aimed at non-physicians. Although the study was small, including only 56 registered nurses at four U.S. hospitals, the amount of contact those nurses reported having with industry representatives was startling, averaging more than one interaction per month.

Some of those contacts were in the guise of trainings or industry-sponsored events, but reps regularly called on nurses. Incentives were not infrequent either, ranging from free samples and gifts to dinners and even opportunities for paid consulting work.

Overall, say the authors, those interactions differed little in nature or frequency from customary industry overtures to physicians and other prescribers.

Lead author Quin Grundy, RN, Ph.D., says marketing efforts aimed at nurses are “commonplace and influential.” While RNs may not be able to prescribe drugs or medical devices, nurses are at the forefront of patient education and often have an important voice in determining what equipment and supplies hospital should purchase.

Not So Harmless?

“While some aspects of these interactions [with industry] may be beneficial,” warns Grundy, “others may pose financial risks to hospitals or safety risks to patients.”

Unfortunately, she says those dangers “remain invisible in this policy climate.” Regulators and hospital administrators have been slow to recognize the significance of industry interaction with RNs, leaving it up to individual nurses to decide how and where to draw the line when it comes to possible conflicts of interest.

In an accompanying editorial, ethics experts Christine Grady, RN, Ph.D., FAAN, chief of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health, and Connie M. Ulrich, RN, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, call for further research into “the potential benefits and harms, direct or indirect, for patients when nurses work with industry, and overall how industry relations affect public trust.”   

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