New Delhi: Why do doctors prescribe a branded drug when its generic variant is easily available at a fraction of the price. The Medical Council of India - which is responsible for monitoring doctors and medical practices - says doctors, hospitals and medical colleges should prescribe generic medicines as far as possible.
But NDTV's hidden camera expose proves that doctors blatantly violate this guideline in exchange for kickbacks from pharmaceutical firms.
The NDTV team went undercover, posing as medical representatives of a new pharma company in Delhi.
Dr J N Saxena is a general practitioner whose clinic is located in central Delhi. Certificates of recognition and repute pinned to his walls profess his credibility.
At our first meeting with him, we asked him to prescribe drugs made by the imaginary pharma company we said we represent. We offered him 20% of the sales that he would drive.
Dr Saxena readily agreed and asked for a week in which he said he would begin prescribing our drugs.
At the next meeting, while we sat in his waiting room, Dr Saxena met a female patient who complained of low blood pressure. He chose not to give her a medicine that would help; instead, he gave her a vitamin - manufactured by our company - that would ensure she kept coming back. One capsule everyday for a month.
Before we left his clinic, we handed him Rs 5,000 in cash. As he accepted the money, he reassured us, "You don't worry, you have my number now, any month you can't meet with your target, just let me know, I will get the job done. Even if you inform me two days in advance, I will get it done."
Dr R K Lalwani a diabetes specialist based in South Delhi was equally amenable. Given that he has a wide range of pharma firms to collaborate with, he said, he wanted a top-of-the-line digital camera worth 1.5 lakhs in return for choosing us. He had no questions about what sort of drugs we could offer. All he wanted was a summation of the sales target how this deal id going to cracked and a meeting with a senior manager from our firm to discuss the deal.
A few days later, we returned to his clinic with brochures of digital cameras for his review. He once again stressed that he was not short on offers.
"I am very choosy. There are lots of brands in the market and people keep roaming around with brochures of Honda City. They came to me too, but I said I only drive a BMW."
We ended the meeting with him saying we would consult our senior management about his demand for the digital camera.
The next doctor we met made it very clear that he was open to prescribing our brand - he was not shy about stating his terms. Keep in mind that these doctors have never met us before - so there is a certain amount of brazenness in discussing graft without concerns about consequences.
"See I don't take small gifts, but yes my son needs an iPad," said Dr Ravinder Kumar, a general practitioner of Central Delhi. When asked for details, he called his son, took down the order and then recited it to us. "OK, he needs an iPad-mini, with retina display and 32GB."
None of this is unusual, said the medical representation of a leading pharma company who spoke with us on the condition of anonymity.
"Doctors do not prescribe any particular drug until there is an incentive. That could be anything from an air conditioner to a car, from sponsoring family holidays to jewelry and even prostitutes," he alleged. "There are doctors who are ready to prescribe drugs of the company's choice without even understanding the composition," he added.
Reacting to NDTV's expose, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is also an ENT doctor, tweeted, "One more sting operation on doctors exposing greed and readiness to shed professional ethics. I again appeal to brother doctors--show spine!"
Ajay Kumar, of the Ethics Committee of the Medical Council of India said the report will be taken up when the panel meets on Wednesday.