How do doctors pay for their trips to conferences and training sessions overseas? Mostly through the multinational pharmaceutical companies that operate in Israel. Last year, multinational drug companies paid NIS 9.2 million for trips for doctors and other medical staff to conferences and training seminars, a 7% increase from 2011, according to a report released this week by Pharma Israel.
Pharmaceutical companies also donated NIS 20.5 million to various bodies in the health system, according to Pharma Israel, the umbrella organization of the Israeli subsidiaries of the multinational pharmaceutical firms.
This was the second year that Pharma Israel has published the figures after a change in the law in 2008 required the drug companies to report on grants. The law has since been toughened to require the precise amount of every donation over NIS 2,500 be published. Recipients are also required to report.
Most of the funding is used for doctor conferences, some NIS 8.15 million was given to hospitals for their staff to travel. The remainder was for the travel and lodgings of employees of the health maintenance organizations, various professional medical associations, non-profit organizations and patients' organizations.
Flying doctors to conferences abroad at the expense of pharmaceutical companies is controversial: On one hand, there are conflict-of-interest concerns since the doctors must choose between the treatment offered by the company that paid for his or her trip and its rivals. On the other hand, if it weren't for corporate funding doctors and other health professionals would not be able to attend conferences and training seminars because of a lack of proper state funding.
To reduce potential conflicts of interest, regulations and the Israel Medical Authority's ethics rules require that the drug companies transfer the money via the hospitals or other professional organization, rather than directly to the doctors. In addition, it is the hospitals that decide which doctors receive funding for their travel.
"At these conferences the doctors catch up [on recent developments], receive medical enrichment and are not involved in the [matter of] personnel," said Daniel Berman, CEO of Pharma Israel. "There is a very clear ethical code according to which the drug companies act. In the end, the contributions are used to advance goals that would not have been achieved without help from the companies."
Sheba leads the list
Hospitals received NIS 11.4 million in funding from pharmaceutical companies, with Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer the biggest recipient at NIS 1.5 million. The Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem received NIS 1.08 million and Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva and Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv were awarded about NIS 1 million each. Patient advocacy groups received some NIS 4 million from the drug companies, and professional medical associations received NIS 2.7 million. HMOs received NIS 1.3 million and non-profit organizations some NIS 1 million.
Among medical associations, the Israel Diabetes Association was the top recipient at NIS 656,000. The Israel Cancer Association received NIS 528,000 and the Israel Multiple Sclerosis Society NIS 380,000. The Israel AIDS Task Force was given NIS 236,000.
In addition to sending doctors overseas, the multinational drug companies also funded NIS 3.6 million of conferences and training in Israel. This money was divided among various professional medical associations, patient-advocacy organizations, hospitals and HMOs. The companies also donated to non-profit organizations to the tune of NIS 3.15 million; to educational activities on health matters, about NIS 1 million; NIS 1 million for medical research; NIS 500,000 for aiding the sick; and NIS 235,000 for medical training.