Original Title: The glory of capitalism
Here’s a little story, which I swear is true.
It is a little-known fact that pharmaceutial companies employ fleets of salespeople in countries where drugs are paid for by governments. You may think that when you go to see a doctor and he prescribes you something that his prescription is based purely on his professional knowledge, but this is not the case.
In the UK, doctors are visited regularly by people from drug companies who hand out stationery with their product name on, and spend time ‘educating’ them about the latest advances in their field. Their job is to persuade doctors to prescribe their products rather than a competitor’s. I saw an estimate recently that marketing costs account for twice as much of a drug’s cost as the development does.
There are regulations and codes of conduct in place to ensure that nobody actually bribes anyone, but all the same… Drug companies spend a lot of money to ensure that they sell more drugs than they would otherwise. They wouldn’t do this if it didn’t affect people’s behaviour.
My one and only visit to Ireland was as ‘Dr Loretta’ attending a conference sponsored by a big pharma company. They had made the mistake of entrusting the guest list to someone who wanted my body, so suddenly I was a psychiatrist!
Anyway, sales people have targets to reach and these are reviewed annually. If you exceed your target then next year you have to do better. If you just reach your target then you get your bonus and next year’s target will be more attainable.
One year this led to an interesting situation that I would like to share. A sales team reached its tarrget in mid-December and the sales manager was worried that next year’s target would be increased. So the company stopped shipping drugs.
The sales staff spent the next two weeks phoning around pharmacies and hospitals, trying to obtain surplus stocks of drugs that they could transfer to the places that needed them most urgently. They had effectively created a shortage in order to maximise their own benefit.
I never found out whether anyone actually died because the drug they needed was unavailable, but it seems like a crazy way to do business. Apparently this is perfectly normal, and everyone does it.
Does it happen in Taiwan too?