The Department of Health and the Taiwan Medical Association yesterday jointly announced new principles to govern the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
The principles were drawn up based on the standards regulating relations between doctors and manufacturers issued by the World Medical Association during its annual convention in Tokyo two years ago.
The principles regulate doctors' participation in medical meetings hosted or sponsored by pharmaceutical firms, accepting gifts from suppliers, undertaking research subsidized by producers and offering counseling to manufacturers.
According to the principles, doctors can only accept subsidies from manufacturers to cover conference registration fees, travel expenses and meals.
Doctors can, however, charge an "appropriate" amount for giving lectures or hosting an event. The principles did not specify what is deemed an "appropriate" fee.
Doctors can only accept gifts that are "inexpensive" and befit local customs and tradition, the department's Bureau of Medical Affairs chief director Hsueh Jei-yuan (
Hsueh added that the principles do not apply to doctors' endorsement of medical products as this did not infringe on patients' rights.
However, doctors should not imply or promise manufacturers that they will introduce or prescribe their products to patients because they have accepted gifts from the owner or manufacturer.
No matter the amount of the subsidy manufacturers provide doctors for research, manufacturers should not impose any restrictions on the publication of the research results, the bureau said.
Doctors who serve as consultants for manufacturers should exercise caution to ensure that their professional judgment is not compromised as a result, Hsueh added.
He admitted that there were still some gray areas, but that doctors should exercise discipline and self-regulation to put these principles into practice.
As to whether or not a certain type of behavior constituted violation of any of the principles was subject to discussion and review by the doctors' disciplinary committee under local departments of health, he said.
Taiwan Medical Association managing director Hung Cheng-wu (洪政武), who was also present at the conference, said that interaction between doctors and manufacturers was inevitable, so it was necessary to prevent a conflict of interests.
He asked doctors across the country to faithfully follow the principles to avoid negative publicity or adversely affecting the image of physicians or the hospitals they work for.
Doctors who violate any of these principles will be punished according to the Physicians' Law (
They may either be given a warning, asked to undergo further education or be suspended from practice for one to 12 months.
They may also lose their license and academic certificate as a result, according to the law.
Cindy Cheng (鄭欣怡), corporate communications manager of medical supplier Johnson and Johnson, said in a phone interview that the company has already sought to follow principles issued by the International Research-based Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association governing marketing rules and behavior between medical professionals and manufacturers.