The trust we have in our doctors and physicians raise them to a level of almost being deities of sorts. The all-knowing physicians have our lives in the palms of their hands and us, on faith, accept them as our saviors. A recent study may just bring your physician back to Earth. Our mere mortal M.D.’s have been taking “bribes” from drug company sales representatives and are finally admitting it.
The study, completed by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and subsequently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that four out of five doctors allowed the sales representatives from drug companies to purchase food and drink for them. These actions directly negate recent efforts to abolish unethical conduct by physicians. The conflict of interest created by these actions has the ability to sway a physician’s prescribing patterns.
Beginning in 2002 and extending to 2004, the study is the first of its kind detailing such actions by physicians. “These findings are fairly disturbing. There appears to be no dialing back at all on these relationships,” said Merrill Goozner of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Goozner has reason to be concerned. For the past five years, while the study was coming to fruition, guidelines and rules were being adopted by major pharmaceutical companies discouraging the giving of gifts to doctors.
To collect enough data to publish the findings, the researchers mailed questionnaires to 3,167 doctors across the United States. The doctors questioned included anesthesiologists, cardiologists, family doctors, surgeons, internists and pediatricians. To better represent the medical community as a whole, the doctors’ levels of expertise ranged from less than ten years to more than thirty years and covered both private practices as well as public hospitals and medical schools.
The results of the survey have some wondering whether the ethical guidelines have had any affect on doctors’ actions and prescribing patterns. Rules adopted in 2002 by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, placed a $100 limit on gifts and banned the gifting of entertainment tickets. No one knows how strictly these guidelines are being followed. Doctors need to “supervise themselves and set stricter standards on what is appropriate and acceptable behavior,” said one of the authors, Dr. David Blumenthal, head of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital.
These findings are some of the most disturbing in recent history for the medical community as a whole. Now I am left asking, “Did you get a free dinner and a show in turn for my prescription?”