Whistleblower says Sun Pharma gave doctors gifts through a subsidiary
A whistleblower has alleged that Sun PharmaNSE 0.86 % Ltd used its subsidiary Aditya Medisales Ltd (AML) to give gifts — including personalised websites and online promotion — to doctors in violation of pharma industry guidelines.
Conversations with the whistleblower, as well as documents available with ET, show that Sun Pharma ran a programme called DocNet to create personalised professional websites for over 6,000 doctors. Vendors who designed the websites, hosted them on the internet and maintained them have invoiced AML for these services. The documents include a detailed signup form—‘Your personal website design kit’ — that doctors could use to share specifications for their websites and carries Sun Pharma and DocNetlogos. Sun also created a Facebook page called SpeakHealth, where physicians would give tips on dealing with various treatments. Sun denied any wrongdoing.
“We categorically deny allegations that Sun Pharma has used AML to promote doctors on the internet or to pay to social media sites,” said a Sun Pharma spokesperson in an email.
It said the SpeakHealth initiative was launched a few years ago as part of the company’s larger objective to raise awareness about diseases among patients. “Through this platform on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn the company is reaching out to an audience of over 1 million users,” Sun said.
Having their own websites increased the visibility of doctors online through search engine results as well as on social media platforms such as Facebook. Some sites also allowed patients to book appointments or seek answers to health queries. According to the whistleblower who contacted ET, Sun Pharma also tracked the traffic that the doctors received online. The names of physicians whose websites received high traffic were shared by the sales representatives of the company for promoting certain brands, the whistleblower said. ET spoke to other medical representatives of the company who corroborated this account.
The cost of creating each website was in the range of Rs 8,000-10,000. The total amount spent on this exercise was around Rs 60 lakh. These expenses were billed to AML. ET has seen documents that include invoices addressed to AML from IT company NetMagic, which provides web hosting services. The invoice is billed for “public cloud” and “MS & security.” ET also checked the domain hosts of a random selection of the doctors’ website in question, and confirmed that all had been registered by a single company called Net4 and that contact details for each of these websites were those of Net4. ET has also seen a list of the doctors targeted, the website building tool kit, and invoices for website design addressed to Sun Pharma. ET reached out to a few doctors on the list, and they confirmed that their websites were created for them by Sun Pharma. These doctors refused to speak on the record because of the legal uncertainty regarding such practices.