Medical suppliers' treats and payments to doctors should be opened to public scrutiny under American-style "sunshine" legislation, say a group of health and science experts.
The United States law led to the disclosure of payments of US$3.5 billion ($4.61 billion) made to more than 500,000 doctors and 1360 teaching hospitals in five months of 2013.
Professor Cindy Farquhar, of Auckland University, and her colleagues say in today's NZ Medical Journal the law is needed to counter the "increasingly close relationship" between suppliers and health practitioners.
" ... it is not uncommon for doctors and researchers to receive payment for membership of advisory boards, speaking at industry sponsored symposia, or sponsorship of travel and accommodation to conferences which often incorporate generous hospitality events and may not include any speaking commitment."
They acknowledge that state-owned Pharmac's role as the main buyer of drugs - and its expansion into the devices market - but worries remain about drugs outside the agency's funding.
"Certainly the industry is still actively promoting new medicines in New Zealand, and so there are concerns about payments to doctors influencing their prescribing," the authors say.
Professor Farquhar said she accepted a number of engagements funded by the medicines industry - including a speaking at an Australian conference and being able to take her family for a week - following her appointment as a senior lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology in 1989. But she stopped the practice in 1998 after becoming concerned about her conflicts of interest.
The journal paper says the transtasman code of conduct adopted by pharmaceutical companies in 2011 does not include a requirement to disclose payments to doctors and institutions and there had been "no visible change in the practices".
We will have no influence on the decision made for a physician to get medical education or attend a conference...We are trying to remove any perception of influence.
Medicines NZ chairwoman Heather Roy said it would be unlawful under the Privacy Act for companies to name doctors without their consent.
"Our preference would be industry self-regulation and we already have a rigorous code of practice."
Drug company GlaxoSmithKline's New Zealand general manager Anna Stove said it typically spent less than $250,000 a year on health care professional education. Globally the company has decided that from next January it will make such payments only to institutions and no longer to individuals.
"We will have no influence on the decision made for a physician to get medical education or attend a conference," Ms Stove said. "We are trying to remove any perception of influence."
The Medical Association's deputy chairman, Dr Stephen Child, said it supported greater transparency but if individual doctors were to be named, the information on payments would have to be accompanied by details such as whether they were for an overseas holiday, which would be inappropriate or for something innocuous like a drug company pen.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said, "There are a number of existing guidelines and standards in New Zealand which cover this. There are no plans to develop legislation in this area."