The Sunshine Act’s Crackdown on Medical Reprints—What Pharma Can Do About It

In an effort to create transparency between pharmaceutical companies and physicians, The Sunshine Act is significantly changing the exchange of medical reprints. The intention of the law is to disclose financial transactions to physicians, such as honoraria, consulting and grants; however, materials that educate physicians, such as medical reprints and textbooks, are also included as transactions of value (TOV) that must be reported.

Benefits for the physician are significant when pharma brands supply medical reprints. Physicians must stay current on medical news, and most physicians (84%) report that they consider it valuable to receive clinical articles, with 77% welcoming reprints during rep visits, according to CMI/Compas’ Media Vitals syndicated research. Broken out by specialty, it is clear that the demand for medical reprints is strong:

  • 83% Nephrology
  • 82% OB-GYN
  • 81% General Surgery
  • 80% Gastroenterology
  • 79% Cardiology, Psychiatry, Rheumatology

While many pharmaceutical manufacturers have been voluntarily disclosing payments to physicians on their websites, implementing The Sunshine Act to its fullest remains a bit confusing for pharma marketers­­—particularly as it relates to non-exempt educational components such as reprints and ePrints. Some brands are hesitant to use reprints of clinical content since the law went into effect in August 2013, because rigorous reporting is required to track TOV. Many pharma brands are bewildered about what clinical content is reportable, and others have anecdotally reported to CMI/Compas that they are postponing their reprint marketing initiatives until they are better able to sort through internal and physician reporting complexities.

Confusion continues, with only 49% of physicians disclosing they have “some understanding” about The Sunshine Act, according to a recent QPharma survey. This uncertainty from both pharma and physicians is noticeably impacting reprint campaigns, with pharma reps revealing to CMI/Compas “that physicians are refusing reprints, if they need to be reported.”

To allay physician concerns, it makes sense to disclose the value of a reprint up front, but how to determine the value of an article and what is reportable? To our publishing partners, it is clear: Consider any medical content, print or electronic, whether posted online, emailed or distributed by hand, to be reportable. Only viewing content on an iPad, like during a detail, (but not using the content as a leave-behind) need not be reported. The value of a journal ePrint is determined by simply dividing the cost of ordering by the total number of ePrints being ordered.

In the meantime, The American Medical Association (AMA), along with a majority of state medical boards, several large journal publishers and relevant associations, are taking action to correct the legislation, wanting to classify reprints as non-reportable education rather than reportable promotion. CMI/Compas reached out the AMA’s Sue Lovenberg, Manager, Reprint & ePrint Communications for comment, who shared:

  • Reprints directly relate to patient care by providing physician education via independent peer-reviewed scientific content.
  • Articles are already accessible to physicians in so many ways (e.g., via their subscription, free online after a specific time) that distribution by a manufacturer is a convenience, not a significant financial transfer of value.

Here are a few tips to help simplify compliance tracking for medical reprints:

Integrate. Consider tools that integrate directly with the NPI database to quickly attach correct physician information that uniquely identifies HCPs, minimizing misspelled or incomplete data that makes compliance difficult.

Automate. Look for tools with pre-configured report templates that integrate with corporate legacy systems. Standardize and automate reports to centralize data from the millions of marketing touchpoints generated yearly.

Consolidate. Your tracking should centralize all digital assets across all suppliers, agencies and internal departments.

Communicate. Communicating your policy of transparency to your physician customers is essential. Many physicians are unaware or misinformed of the new accountability, so alerting them early to their own reporting requirements, as well as defining the value of a specific reprint, gives pharma brands a chance to take the lead in educating their customers in this shared responsibility. “Accuracy in these reports is of the utmost importance,” John Kamp, Executive Director, Coalition for Healthcare, said during a webinar dealing with the Sunshine Act, “because some physicians have indicated that reporting inaccuracies would either alter their relationships with industry or force them to sever ties with a company.”

“As complex as reporting may seem, there are solutions to make it easier. It’s most important that we must not lose sight of the critical role that clinical reprints play in informing clinical decisions,” says Dr. Susan Dorfman, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer at CMI/Compas. “Physicians rely on this unbiased, peer-reviewed medical content to stay informed about medical breakthroughs. It is our responsibility to work with stakeholders to break down barriers that impede the exchange of such information.”

Reprint campaigns remain a viable and cost-effective way to engage and educate physicians. Yes, The Sunshine Act is changing the way that pharma companies do business with physicians. With a forward-thinking compliance strategy and some smart tools, this new law can be a positive agent for change in the way patients—and physicians—perceive Big Pharma.


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