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16 Aug 2017


A major priority for the AMA’s Ethics and Medico-Legal Committee (EMLC) will be the review of the Position Statement on Medical Practitioners’ Relationships with Industry 2012.  The statement provides guidance for doctors on maintaining ethical relationships with “industry”, including the pharmaceutical industry, medical device and technology industry, other health care product suppliers, health care facilities, medical services such as pathology and radiology, and other health services such as pharmacy and physiotherapy.

The current Statement encompasses the following sections:

  • medical education;
  • managing real and potential conflicts of interest;
  • industry sponsored research involving human participants including post-marketing surveillance studies;
  • meetings and activities organised independent of industry;
  • meetings and activities organised by industry;
  • hospitality and entertainment;
  • use of professional status to promote industry interests;
  • remuneration for services;
  • product samples;
  • dispensing and related issues; and
  • relationships involving industry representatives.

Doctors’ primary duty is to look after the best interests of their patients. To do so, doctors must maintain their professional autonomy, clinical independence and integrity, and have the freedom to exercise professional judgement in the care and treatment of patients without undue influence by third parties (such as the pharmaceutical industry or governments).

But what happens when the impetus to change the relationship with industry comes from within the profession itself? For example, the AMA’s current policy on doctors and dispensing states that:

11.1 Practising doctors who also have a financial interest in dispensing and selling pharmaceuticals or who offer their patients’ health-care related or other products are in a prima facie position of conflict of interest.

11.2 Doctors should not dispense pharmaceuticals or other therapeutic products unless there is no reasonable alternative. Where dispensing does occur, it should be undertaken with care and consideration of the patient’s circumstances.

In recent years, we have heard from members who believe this position is too strict and doctors should be able to dispense pharmaceutical products, arguing that it’s more convenient for patients and leads to better compliance. For example, patients may be more likely to fill their prescriptions onsite at the doctor’s office than if they have to go offsite to a pharmacy. In addition, the doctor is there to answer any questions relevant to the prescription which will reduce pharmacy call backs and waiting times.

Historically, the AMA has strongly advocated that doctors do not make money from prescriptions. Allowing doctors to dispense pharmaceuticals or other therapeutic products (other than in exceptional circumstances) would be a fundamental shift in this position – but is that a sufficient reason not to change it?     

After all, dispensing pharmaceuticals or other therapeutic products is not in itself unethical so long as it is undertaken in accordance with good medical practice. Unfortunately, however, there can still be a strong perception of a conflict of interest, particularly if doctors are making a profit rather than just recovering costs. So for many doctors – but more importantly our patients and the wider community who are our ultimate judges – this is a line which should not be crossed.

These are the types of issues the EMLC will consider in reviewing this policy and we will endeavour to seek members’ views during the process.  

The EMLC will also be developing an overarching policy on managing interests, highlighting the potential for professional and personal interests to intersect, and at times compete, during the course of a doctor’s career. While a real, or perceived, conflict of interest is by no means a moral failing, it is important that doctors are able resolve any potential for conflict in the best interests of patients.

The Position Statement on Medical Practitioners’ Relationships with Industry 2012 is accessible on the AMA’s website at If you would like to suggest any amendments to the current Statement, please forward them to


Published: 16 Aug 2017