Virtually all patients go to the doctor in search of an objective, well-reasoned medical opinion on their health. With such a high amount of trust placed in their doctors, it should be very disconcerting for patients to learn that many doctors receive large cash payouts from pharmaceutical companies, usually in the area of tens of thousands of dollars. This behavior unquestionably raises major ethical issues, and calls into question the judgment of numerous doctors.
ProPublica, a nonpartisan, non-profit newsroom, recently conducted a multi-organizational study about doctor compensation from drug companies. The newsroom’s list of partners features Consumer Reports, NPR, PBS’s Nightly Business Report, The Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune. The study found that over 17,000 medical providers, mainly doctors, have received money from pharmaceutical companies since the beginning of 2009. In return, the doctors gave speeches to their counterparts in the medical field, with the purpose of promoting specific drugs produced by the very same drug producers.
Even more alarming, a number of cash recipients had checkered performance records. 250 speakers had been sanctioned for inappropriate professional behavior, while another 40 had either been cited for research infractions by the FDA, lost hospital privileges, or had criminal records. Furthermore, an additional 20 recipients had settled at least two medical malpractice lawsuits.
Not surprisingly, the idea of doctors being influenced by lavish paychecks from drug producers does not sit well with patients. In a Consumer Reports poll of 1,250 adults, 74 percent of Americans disapproved of doctors taking money from drug manufacturers. In addition, 77 percent of respondents would have difficulty accepting medical advice from a doctor on a pharmaceutical company payroll.
While the influence of the drug industry over the medical profession is certainly cause for concern, there does appear to be some good news in the horizon. Beginning in 2013, pharmaceutical companies will be required by law to publicly list doctors who receive company money. This will give consumers a clearer picture regarding the impartiality of their doctor, and allow them a chance to choose an unbiased and honest medical practitioner.