Speaker Program Kickbacks: How Sham Physician Speaker Programs Fuel Sales of Prescription Drugs

Too often, some pharmaceutical manufacturers have cornered segments of their market by strategically seeking out and paying kickbacks to the highest-prescribing specialists in the country. The most common kickback payouts have involved sham speaker programs.

Manufacturers that have devised bogus speaker programs have filled their speakers’ bureau with “thought leaders” based on the physicians’ prescription potential, rather than their true credentials. Oftentimes, the speaker recruitment efforts have focused on those providers who are prescribing competitor products. For especially prolific prescribers, senior managers have flown across the country to wine and dine the physicians and to pitch the monetary benefits of joining the speaker program.

In the most egregious sham speaker programs, the recruited physicians have been paid thousands of dollars to attend training sessions held at luxurious resorts and venues. Typically, while these training have lasted half a day, the attendees have been flown in for an all-expense-paid extended weekend getaway.

Once the physicians have survived this “training” weekend, they are then inserted into a full calendar of paid speaking gigs, including roundtable discussions, advisory boards, and even patient outreach programs. Oftentimes, in sham speaker programs, the speakers’ honoraria have varied based on the speakers’ prescription volume, and the speakers have been paid for events even when no attendees show up.

These manufacturers have also closely monitored the prescription levels of their speakers. If the speakers’ prescription levels dip below previous numbers, sales reps have been directed to discuss the downward trend with the offending provider. Physicians who prescribed the most would typically receive the most speaking opportunities.  Those who did not use as much product would not be used, even though they had the same (or greater) training and qualifications to speak.