In Australia, NPS Medicinewise is a well-resourced, independent body which offers practical tools and evidence-based resources on various therapeutic topics to support quality use of medicines and medical tests. It provides extensive, free online resources and decision-making tools for health professionals. NPS also provides free facilitator visits to medical practices, which we recommend as an excellent alternative to visiting pharmaceutical reps.
Rather than focusing on just one drug—let alone just one brand of one drug—the NPS facilitators and resources compare the various available treatments for a particular disease or symptom. This ‘evidence-based comparison’ approach offers a far better basis for balanced clinical decisions than does a series of marketing visits and leaflets advocating the benefits of each individual medicine brand.
For the same reason, we recommend the Australian Medicines Handbook – a practical, reliable, comparative medicines information resource. Again, the availability of this time-saving, independent resource provides a counter argument to doctors who claim they must obtain a ‘balanced’ view by seeing all the drug reps from rival companies.
The Australian Therapeutic Guidelines prides itself on publishing independent, unbiased and objective information about medications. They have no sponsors, advertisers or shareholders, and maintain strict and transparent conflict of interest guidelines. The Therapeutic Guidelines series covers fifteen topics, with advice about the use of nearly every therapeutic medication most doctors would ever use.
The product information (PI) for every drug approved by the TGA is readily available online, just a couple of mouse-clicks away. The PI has been written by the pharmaceutical company, and provides the scientific basis for all the clinical claims allowed to be discussed by their pharmaceutical representatives.
There are many other good sources of medication information online published by government bodies and hospitals (e.g. Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital handbook and pharmacopoeia), and it is important to look for those that are more independent, and transparent about potential conflicts of interest. Independence is not all-or-nothing, and some judgement is called for when comparing sources. However, to put this into perspective, remember that visiting pharmaceutical representatives, by definition, have substantive conflicts of interest and are never independent.