A long-time editor of a prestigious medical journal started his editorial on physicians’ conflicts of interest by describing a fantasy: “Doctors treat patients using simply the best evidence and their experience. They are not influenced by money or self-interest.”
“This is, of course, nonsense,” he wrote. There is a reason “pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars on the influencing, education, and entertainment of doctors around the world.”
As discussed in my video below Find Out If Your Doctor Takes Drug Company Money, the vast majority of physicians in the United States take gifts from the pharmaceutical industry, and, ironically, cardiologists, whose practice centers around diseases that can largely be prevented and treated with lifestyle changes, receive the most payments of all. A previous compilation of surveys from the 1980s and 1990s found that, on average, doctors met face-to-face with drug industry representatives about once a week. Today, your family doctor may meet with drug company employees on average 16 times a month. There are only 20 workdays a month, so that’s nearly every day.
What does the public think about this? Only about half even appear to know what’s going on. Therefore, “if 83% of doctors receive gifts, it is likely that a significant percentage of patients are not aware that their personal physician receives industry gifts.” We’re not just talking about a token Viagra paperweight or soap dispenser. For marketing, pharmaceutical companies spend $15,000 per physician every year, making conflicts of interest one of the most pressing problems in American health care.
How do doctors feel about it? Most generally approve of the gifts. However, tellingly, physicians don’t want gift relationships made public. “Physicians’ disagreement that it is inappropriate to accept gifts, but their reluctance to disclose the gift relationship to the public, suggests that they must recognize that the public would not appreciate the practice.” To analyze how doctors resolve this contradiction, researchers conducted a series of physician focus groups. It turns out physicians use a variety of denials and rationalizations, including avoiding thinking about it, and denying responsibility. Physicians readily acknowledged the inherent conflict of interest, but this didn’t stop them. In fact, some complained that the gifts were getting more modest….