Patient Care

Does Industry Marketing to Nurses Matter?

July 2016Diana Austin

This month, we introduce a new feature in which we invite readers to give their perspectives on current topics and controversies in nursing.

While interactions between physicians and the pharmaceutical, medical device and other related industries have received a great deal of attention tied to potential effects on patient care, registered nurses (RNs) have largely been left out of the discussion. This is based partly on the assumption that as nonprescribing clinicians, RNs have little influence over decisionmaking related to industry products.

However, they are one of the largest groups of health professionals in the US, and industry is beginning to target them with some of the same tactics used in marketing to physicians.

Quinn Grundy In a study published in the June 7, 2016, issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, Quinn Grundy (PhD ’15), a postdoctoral research fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, and UCSF faculty members Lisa Bero from the School of Pharmacy and Ruth Malone, who chairs the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the School of Nursing, looked at the issue in four acute care hospitals in the US. They found that, while most hospital administrators believed RNs had little interaction with industry, such interactions were actually common. Nurses reported attending sponsored meals and events, receiving paid travel and gifts, and being invited to participate in paid market research, consulting and speaking.

Grundy and her co-authors found that, while some aspects of nurse-industry interactions may be beneficial – representatives who know their products well can provide important education to clinicians learning to use them and can help troubleshoot problems – the majority of RNs in the study also reported concerns, including threats to patient safety, arising from these interactions. Particularly alarming examples included an industry representative leaving a coat in a sterile field during a procedure, and others who performed prohibited acts, such as opening sterile packages in the operating room.

Nurses also reported struggling to separate marketing spin from education, and expressed concerns about the neutrality and accuracy of the information presented by industry. As one cardiology clinical nurse specialist told the investigators, “We want nurses to be able to critique research, but frequently, research that gets published from industry is going to have a certain spin.… To find that right balance between the education and the marketing I think is tricky.”

To address these and other concerns, Grundy and her colleagues conclude, nurses need greater support and guidance to manage their day-to-day interactions with industry.

Give Us Your Perspective:

How could industry marketing to nurses influence patient care? (In your comments, feel free to note any personal interactions you’ve had with industry and if they presented any challenges, concerns or benefits.)