A report by a major US medical publication suggests that state disclosure laws in the country regarding payments made by the pharmaceutical industry to doctors needs urgent revision.

An analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association saw researchers examine publicly available data for two US states, Vermont and Minnesota, which demonstrated that drugmakers could avoid disclosing details of payments to doctors by classifying the payments as trade secrets, failing to file an annual report or not identifying the recipient of the money. The report also showed that many doctors accept payments that exceed the $100 limit recommended by the American Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The analysis also noted that while the two states have these disclosure laws, actually getting access to documents proved difficult and involved “extensive negotiation with the Office of the Vermont Attorney General and manual photocopying of individual disclosure forms at Minnesota's State Board of Pharmacy.”

Co-author Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, stated that "the laws... have not secured the ends they've sought. They're riddled with holes in terms of trade secret exemptions, lack of standardisation of reporting requirements, failure of companies to report as required, and failure of states to enforce the laws." The JAMA article came with an editorial which suggested that the analysis "undermines faith in industry self-regulation."

PhRMA’s senior vice president Ken Johnson noted that the laws in Vermont and Minnesota, “and the article examining the laws, mix apples with oranges because they combine the activities of pharmaceutical research company representatives who meet with health care professionals with separate physician contracts and grants to academic medical research centres.” He added that the latter often involve “important pre-clinical biomedical research done for biopharmaceutical companies that are developing new medicines and such work should not be included in the Vermont and Minnesota laws.”

What's more, he said that the authors of the JAMA article “have compounded the problem by offering a more sophisticated analysis than is justified by the mish-mash of data they had to work with. The writers themselves note that the two different state laws require reporting of inconsistent data and yet they still used the information in their evaluation.”

Mr Johnson concluded by saying that “patients are well-served when technically trained pharmaceutical research company representatives work with health care professionals to make sure medicines are used properly and they also benefit when physicians and academic research centres collaborate with biopharmaceutical research companies in the development of new drugs."