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The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's (ABPI's) new Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry came into force in May, signalling huge changes for the pharmaceutical industry and calling for greater transparency.

Under the recent batch of changes to the code, companies have been banned from giving promotional freebies to any healthcare professionals.

For years, promotional freebies such as pens, pencils and coffee mugs have been used by pharmaceutical companies as a way of getting their products noticed and remembered by busy doctors.

However, pharma companies will now have to find a new way to stand out from the crowd, as they will only be able to distribute "inexpensive pens and notebooks" for use at meetings and conferences, and even these must not bear the name of or any information about medicines.

And the new regulations do not just affect promotional materials, clause 23.7 of the code states that any monies provided to the industry by patient organisations must be made public, along with details of all payments made to medical professionals by pharmaceutical companies for services such as speaking at events from 2013.

While these changes may mean extra work for pharma professionals, they have been welcomed as the first step of a new relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession.

"They are strong indicators of an industry willing to work in new ways, to embrace greater transparency and for the science behind our medicines as well as the medicine’s place in the patient pathway to be the focus of our interactions with clinicians," commented the ABPI's director of trust and Reputation Andrew Powrie-Smith.

President of the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Richard Thompson, also welcomed the move. While there is no proof medical professionals are swayed by promotional items, there are signs that they can be a barrier to trust.

He added: "The changes to the code will help restore patient confidence in medical independence and increase trust in both the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry."

As well as creating an atmosphere of greater trust, there is also a sense that the changes to the code will improve the relationship between pharma companies and doctors.

Speaking to Pulse magazine following the introduction of the changes, GP Charles Alessi said that it was previously impossible to get pharmaceutical companies to talk about anything other than drugs, but now it may be easier to engage them in conversations about pathways.

Getting to grips with the changes

While the changes to the Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry being with them a number of benefits there is no denying they will create more work for pharma companies, especially as further amendments to the code are scheduled for two years' time.

To help tackle this issue, a new internet resources Pharma Disclosure has been set up to help pharma professionals comply with the latest transparency requirements.

The new in-house tool allows companies to catalogue their information in a way which makes it quick and easy to access, according to Pharma Disclosure's Adam Gay.

However, for firms not wanting to embrace the new tool, there is also an e-learning module and a Quick Guide to the Code for Health Professionals provided by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority to help companies ensure they are on the right side of the regulations.