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[Special] Why doctors got upset with MSD Korea’s monitoring programExternal agency records detailed conversations of doctors at product briefings
  • By Jeong Sae-im
  • Published 2019.04.01 14:22
  • Updated 2019.04.02 14:46
  • comments 0

Physicians and employees of MSD Korea are ranting against the drugmaker’s so-called Self-Assurance program, an employee monitoring system via an external agency. The company said it introduced the program to check if their workers keep compliance because the Korean regulator last year mandated pharmaceutical firms keep records of all the “economic benefits” given to doctors and pharmacists. However, MSD employees are complaining that the company’s watch has become excessively intrusive. Doctors expressed outrage after Korea Biomedical Review’s article revealed that all of the physicians’ conversations with MSD employees at product briefings were recorded and reported to the company. After obtaining the company’s internal documents, KBR is publishing a series of three articles on how MSD Korea operates Self-Assurance program and what kind of problems it created. – Ed.

MSD Korea said it was running the Self-Assurance program to ensure legitimacy, transparency, balance, and accuracy when delivering information about medicine and products to stakeholders.

Under the monitoring program, the company dispatches a coordinator from an external agency to product briefing sessions to make sure that MSD salespersons provide meals or promotional materials to client doctors under the fair trade regulations.

The problem was that the coordinator not only recorded the number of participants and the meal expenses but casual conversations of doctors at dining sessions after the product promotions.

The Korean unit of the multinational pharmaceutical firm said such recording aimed to check if any comments at the dining were in breach of the fair trade rules that “a pharmaceutical must not hold a product briefing to support foods or drinks needed for a gathering of healthcare professionals.”

MSD Korea’s internal documents obtained by KBR showed that a doctor’s comments to another colleague doctor, “Please enjoy the meal and if you need more, order more” and “Let me introduce a new member before we start,” at a subsequent dining session, were all recorded and reported to the company.

Citing the recorded files, MSD Korea gave a warning to the salesperson who hosted the event because the doctors’ comments could be misleading as if MSD Korea supported a gathering of doctors.

An external coordinator cannot leave the dining place because he or she has to listen to and record every word between MSD Korea’s employees and doctors. Even if doctors complain that they feel uncomfortable, the coordinator has to stay.

If doctors still insist the coordinator leave the place, the coordinator can stay at a room nearby and keep the door of the dining room open, under the company’s guideline. If such a situation occurs, the coordinator should report it to the company.

“At a dining session after the product presentation, doctors usually talk about personal things. However, the company said it needed to check the conversations because they might become controversial,” an official at MSD Korea said.

“The compliance program team sometimes would ask us to clarify about a product briefing. They warn us ‘not to try to get away with it because they got evidence.’ I think they have recorded all the conversations and stored them.”

‘Doctors did not get any notice’ vs. ‘MSD Korea notified’

After the KBR’s news report about MSD Korea’s recording, doctors said they were enraged because the company did not give them any notice that it would record their talks.

The company reiterated that it informed doctors that a monitoring agent would be dispatched to the meeting in advance. However, it did not explicitly state that the agent could record all the participants’ words and actions in detail.

The note on MSD Korea’s invitation card for doctors states, “An observer can attend the product briefing to find any room for improvement and to enhance our employees’ competence. We will do our best to prevent inconvenience by an observer’s visit. We hope you have a good time. Thank you.”

MSD Korea’s invitation card for doctors stated, “An observer can attend the product briefing to find any room for improvement and to enhance our employees’ competence.”

Another official at MSD Korea said the company did not put any notice on the collection of personal information at the scene. Instead, an MSD employee at the event simply introduced the monitoring agent orally.

The official explained that the company ordered salespersons to obtain the consent of physicians on collecting their personal information, but there was any notice on how much information the company would keep.

“The company ordered us to ‘casually’ explain about the recording, not to make clients uncomfortable. If the clients had known that their talks would be recorded in such detail, I doubt that they would have agreed,” he said.

MSD Korea, however, refuted that there was no legal issue because the company received doctors’ consent on information collection in advance.

“Clients can either directly sign an agreement on a website run by MSD or on a paper given by salespersons,” the company said.


<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>

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