The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy has revised the language of an important Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) to ensure that payments to Minnesota health care practitioners for participation in bona fide market research are NOT prohibited or restricted.

The architects of this effort to seek revision of the guidelines published in this FAQ were CASRO (Council of American Survey Research Organizations), MRA (Marketing Research Association), and PMRG (Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Group). These three associations worked together with the Board of Pharmacy and the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General to clarify language in a FAQ that had effectively shut down pharmaceutical market research in Minnesota.

The Board of Pharmacy confirmed that the original FAQ, which addressed the MN statute that prohibited pharma manufacturers' "gifts to practitioners," was never intended to prevent research companies from conducting research with health care practitioners on behalf of pharmaceutical clients. The Board explained that the intention of the original FAQ was to prohibit pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesale drug distributors from disguising so-called "marketing surveys" as legitimate market research in order to market, sell, or promote a drug to practitioners.

The three associations strongly support Minnesota's and the Board of Pharmacy's intention to prohibit "sugging," selling under the guise of research. LaToya Lang and Howard Fienberg of MRA noted that "sugging is antithetical to professional survey research codes and ethics and unacceptable to both survey research companies and the internal research departments at pharmaceutical companies." The unintended consequence of the original FAQ's ambiguous language was the decision by pharmaceutical companies to exclude Minnesotan physicians as potential respondents in any market research studies conducted by survey research organizations.

As posted on January 20, 2010 by the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy the current FAQ clearly distinguishes sugging activities, which are prohibited, from genuine market research conducted by independent survey research companies, which is not prohibited. The FAQ - available at - reads:

     Q. Under Minnesota law, is it appropriate to make cash payments to practitioners for participation in so-called "surveys" that are intended by pharmaceutical manufacturers to   promote, market or sell a drug directly to those practitioners?

     A. No. Such practices would be considered commercial marketing activities, rather than bonafide market research (i.e., a "genuine research project") conducted by independent survey research organizations. Participation in marketing activities is not a "substantial service," nor does it involve a "genuine research project" as intended by the legislature. Therefore, cash payments to practitioners who participate in marketing activities are prohibited under the no gifts to practitioners statute.

Bill Little and Debbie Kenworthy of PMRG stated that this revised FAQ, which was unanimously agreed to by the Board of Pharmacy, "was also reviewed by several pharmaceutical and biotech companies, whose research and/or legal departments indicated that the new language provides clarity that legitimate market research is considered genuine research by the state of Minnesota."

The survey research industry applauds the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy and the Office of the Attorney General for understanding and recognizing the distinct difference between marketing activities and marketing research. The purpose of marketing activities is to sell and influence the behavior of individuals; the purpose of bona fide marketing research is solely informational - survey research gathers and analyzes opinions in order to improve knowledge. The identity of a health care practitioner, or of anyone who participates in a market research survey, is confidential, and survey respondents are paid directly by the survey research company - the pharmaceutical manufacturer or any survey research client does not know who participated in the research. "We are delighted that the Board of Pharmacy has taken the very important step of drawing this crucial line between true research and pretext," said Kevin Menk and Richard Day of CASRO.

CASRO, MRA, and PMRG will work energetically with their members and the entire pharmaceutical market research industry to ensure that Minnesota health care practitioners can once again participate in pharmaceutical market research studies.