Tuesday, April 03, 2012

With MCI curbs, companies in a bind on how to train docs on new gadgets

Medical technology companies, particularly those that market medical devices in the country, are in a fix over how to train doctors on their latest gadgets. This dilemma stems from recent rules from the Medical Council of India (MCI) prohibiting these firms or pharma companies from extending any favour in terms of gifts or hospitality to doctors. The move, alongside that barring such firms from doling out goodies to medicos, restricts them to a great extent from effectively conducting any training programmes for doctors to update them on technological advances in medical equipment, claim medical tech firms.

Fundamentally, medical equipment such as stents, pacemakers and shunts are different from drugs in respect of their usage and a hands-on experience on gadgets becomes absolutely essential for doctors and technicians in most cases before they can start using them on patients. “All we are asking for is to devise a separate code of conduct for medical technology firms by taking into account the ground realities. We are definitely prepared for a cap on such costs. But a blanket ban barring medical technology firms from holding such training sessions for doctors would prove to be counterproductive,” said 3M Healthcare India Executive Director Gautam Khanna, also the Chairman of FICCI's medical device forum.

"Many doctors have private practices here and when they are invited to attend such courses or workshops to upgrade their skill sets, it implies they either have to remain absent from their work for a few days or may even have to shut their clinics for a while, forgoing their income for those days. With this as the backdrop, it becomes practically impossible to convince them to attend such sessions, when you are not even paying for their basic train tickets or stay," Khanna added.

While a promoter of an Indian medical device firm concurred with the difficulties and went a step further by stating that the government should grade medical devices on the basis of risks associated with them and draw up guidelines accordingly, another domestic devices firm FE spoke to was unaware of the fact that the MCI prohibitions on pharma companies extend to medical equipment firms too.

Not everyone agrees, though. Philips Healthcare India business head Krishna Kumar, for instance, says that one must not confuse between what is good for business with what is good for patients. "Almost every regulated country does have such guidelines mandating good business practices. And although these ethical guidelines may pose challenges in the beginning, we would have to work at alternatives to overcome these hurdles. One option is to rely more on tools of e-learning, create virtual programmes and host websites that use simulation and other online educational materials for doctors," Kumar said. He also says there is a window in many accredited training programmes which are approved by the government and companies should look at directing their resources towards such programmes rather than directly funding doctors.

An estimate by pharma-focused researcher Espicom pegged the Indian medical equipment market at around $2.6 billion in 2011. Despite strong growth rates, the market remains disproportionately small. Although the Indian market ranks among the top 20 in the world, it is characterised by low per capita spending. High-quality products are sought after, particularly in the private sector, and the high-tech end of the medical device market is dominated by multinationals.

Source: The Financial Express, April 3, 2012

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