For the second Case Assignment, please write a 4- to 5-page essay on the ethical aspects of
marketing in health care.
Suppose that you are tasked with managing a health care marketing division for a
pharmaceutical drug. A junior member of your marketing team suggests that you increase
the budget to invite health care providers to attend symposia in which they will be trained
to be speakers. One goal of the marketing plan is to influence physicians to prescribe the
drug. The team member has draft versions of brochures and DVD’s espousing the benefits
of the drug; these are to be distributed to physicians and patients as a way to boost sales.
The team member also suggests that a bonus system be set in place for your sales
representatives in their territories in order to increase the number of prescriptions that
physicians make for the drug.
- What are some of the ethical issues associated with this marketing strategy?
- How would you address these issues as the manager of your division?
Ethical Aspects of Marketing in Healthcare
The number of sales representatives who are organizing training sessions to market
prescribed drugs is on the rise in the society today. These sales representatives provide
physicians with every reason as to why they should prescribe the drugs being sold to them.
Physicians are even promised bonuses to influence them to administer those drugs to patients.
Healthcare is a serious subject, and drug marketers are expected to observe ethical behaviors in
their marketing activities (Francer, Izquierdo, Music,…Woods, 2014). Although the Food and
Drugs Administration (FDA) prohibits unethical promotion and advertisement of prescription
drugs, it lacks the capacity to oversee activities of small pharmaceutical companies related to the
marketing of prescription drugs. It is, therefore, the responsibilities of companies to pay
maximum attention to ethics when marketing drugs. In the given case, the actions of the junior
member go against the regulations documented by the Food and Drugs Administration
ETHICAL ASPECTS OF MARKETING IN HEALTHCARE 2
concerning best practice that should be followed when marketing pharmaceutical drugs
There are two major ethical issues associated with the marketing strategy described in the
case. First, the junior member is inadequately informed about safety issues of the drug and
therefore exposes patients to severe health risks by marketing it to physicians. For instance, he is
not aware of any possible side effects and interactions that the drug might have on users
(Geangu, Dumitru, and Gârdan, 2013). This poses a significant health risk to patients who might
consume the drug just in case the physicians accept to prescribe it. Just like every other
healthcare providers, drug marketers are expected to demonstrate the commitment to ethical
principles and standards (Womack, 2013). One of the ethical principles that can be used to
explain the ethical violation in the case is nonmaleficence. According to Stichler (2013),
nonmaleficence is an ethical principle that assumes that the morality of an act is defined by its
ability to minimize harm on the victim. By persuading physicians to prescribe drugs whose
associated health risks are unknown, the junior member has violated the ethical principle of
nonmaleficence because his actions are exposing patients to more risks than benefits (Womack,
Second, the junior member is wasting the company’s resources by using them as
enticements to make physicians distribute the drug being marketed to patients. For instance, the
junior member is advising the marketing manager to increase the budget to enable them to get
finances that they can use to train physicians. Furthermore, he is suggesting a bonus system that
would be given to sales representatives to motivate them to increase prescriptions that doctors
would make for the drug. These acts are considered unethical because they violate the
organization’s policy as well as the general ethical principles that govern drug advertising (Hanna
ETHICAL ASPECTS OF MARKETING IN HEALTHCARE 3
et. al., 2014). As an employee, the junior manager should not waste the company’s resources in
matters of self-interest. His primary objective is to sell as many drugs as possible without
considering the impacts of his actions on the organization and patients. Additionally, physicians
who accept to purchase the overprescribed drugs will administer those drugs as received from the
sales representatives. This will cause adverse health impacts on the patients who consume the
drugs (Geangu, Dumitru, and Gârdan, 2013).
The two issues described above demonstrate how unethical drug marketers can be in their
efforts to make their products known to the public. These healthcare providers do not put ethics
into considerations in their marketing activities. Moreover, it shows that sales representatives of
do not pay attention to codes of conduct and regulations which have been put in place to guide
ethical pharmaceutical advertising and promotion (Francher et. al., 2014). Again, from the case,
one can learn the importance of training sales representative about ethics and its relevance in
pharmaceutical advertising and promotion (Stichler, 2013).
As the manager of marketing division, I would take appropriate actions to help solve the
ethical issues in the given case. I will utilize two strategies to ensure that the ethical issues
described above do not repeat themselves in the organization in future. First, I will organize a
training session to teach all employees, including the sales representatives about the importance
of ethical behavior in healthcare delivery and how it applies to pharmaceutical advertising.
During the training sessions, I will inform employees that health care delivery requires total
commitment to ethical behavior (Womack, 2013). Also, I will explain to them the relationship
between ethical practice and pharmaceutical advertising and promotion. Some of the ethical
ETHICAL ASPECTS OF MARKETING IN HEALTHCARE 4
practices that I will expound on include; truthful advertising and accurate communication during
the pharmaceutical promotion. The main goal of this training program is to help employees
understand the importance of putting patient safety into consideration when marketing drugs
(Hanna et. al., 2014).
Second, I will support the organization to create a strict code of conduct which
documents advertising policies that all employees must adhere to, failure to which they are
relieved of their duties. With a strict code of conduct, I believe that all employees will be careful
to utilize the organization’s resources for the right purpose and in the right manner. Again, the
code of conduct will regulate unethical employee behaviors such as increasing prescription of
drugs before releasing them to physicians. Francher et. al. (2014) emphasizes the role played by
an organization’s code of conduct in promoting ethical behaviors among employees. According
to Francher et. al. (2014), one of the ways of enhancing ethical pharmaceutical advertising and
promotion is the use of regulations and codes of conduct. With a clearly documented code of
conduct, employees will repeatedly remind themselves of what defines good practice every time
they seem to doubt their actions.
Healthcare providers should understand that safety of patients is a crucial subject during
direct care delivery, as well as during advertisement of pharmaceutical products. One of the
goals of pharmaceutical communication and marketing is to promote wellness and prevention
among the target population. For this reason, everyone involved in the marketing process must
strive to engage in actions that minimize risks and maximize benefits for patients. This explains
why ethics has become a critical aspect of wellness and prevention program advertising in the
recent past. Today’s pharmaceutical organizations can promote ethical behavior among their
ETHICAL ASPECTS OF MARKETING IN HEALTHCARE 5
employees by taking them through a whole session of ethics training. Additionally, these
companies can design clear codes of conduct to help control employee behavior.
Francer, J., Izquierdo, J. Z., Music, T., Narsai, K. Nikidis, C., Simmonds, H., & Woods, P.
(2014). Ethical pharmaceutical promotion and communications worldwide: Codes and
regulations. Philosophy, ethics, and humanities in medicine, 9(1), p. 7. Available in the
Trident Online Library.
Geangu, I. P., Dumitru, I., & Gârdan, D. (2013). Ethical and legal aspects of marketing activity
in the field of dental healthcare services. Contemporary Readings in Law and Social
Justice, 5(2), 904-918.
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Hanna, L., Barry, J., B.Sc, Donnelly, R., Hughes, F., M.Pharm, Jones, D., D.Sc, Laverty, G.,
Ryan, C., (2014). Using debate to teach pharmacy students about ethical issues.
American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 78(3), 57.
Stichler, J. F. (2013). Ethical considerations in healthcare design and construction. HERD:
Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 6(4), 5-9.
Womack, C. A. (2013). Ethical and epistemic issues in direct-to-consumer drug advertising:
Where is patient agency? Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy, 16(2), 275-80.