In an ideal world, doctors and other medical practitioners would be focused solely on patient care. Their single priority would be patient health and all decisions would be focused on that end. However, as a New York medical malpractice law firm, we know that all too often financial factors have an undue influence in the medical field. Of course money influences virtually every part of our lives, from what groceries we buy to where we live. However, the one area where quality and necessity have to trump financial consideration at all times is in healthcare. Unfortunately, in too many cases doctors forget this imperative and allow hidden financial influences to affect their work.
The power of money in the medical field is perhaps most apparent when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry.
Most patients rightly trust the recommendations of their doctors when it comes to what medications to take and how much to take. But are doctors influenced in their recommendations by those in the pharmaceutical industry who stand to gain from increased use of their products? It is a very real concern.
The New York Times reported recently on a move by the Obama administration to require pharmaceutical companies to fully disclose monies they’ve paid to doctors including speaking fees, research funds, consulting costs, and money spent on travel and entertainment. The Times noted that several studies have found such payments do influence the decision-making process and can lead doctors to prescribe medications from the companies who’ve provided financial support. This includes prescribing risky and inappropriate medicines that can harm patients and also products that carry a high economic cost for the consumer. When this occurs in our area it is a blatant examples of New York City medical malpractice, and victimized patient have a right to demand accountability.
The new law is tied to Medicare and Medicaid and would cover any medical practice that accepts patients using either program. There is no distinction based on the nature of the expenditures with the provision requiring reporting of both “proper” and “improper” payments. Penalties for a violation by the drug companies could run as high as $10,000 per unreported payment and up to $1 million annually. Liability would extend to pharmaceutical executives who oversee company reporting.
We applaud this effort to increase transparency involving interactions between pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners. Of course some marketing of new medications is necessary. Like any other business, the pharmaceutical industry needs to be sure that consumers and their medical advisors are aware of new products. In the case of medication, this often means informing doctors about available products since they serve as gate-keepers to the consumer purchasers. For this reason, not every expense incurred by a drug company in an effort to reach practitioners is inherently dangerous.
However, stories abound of lavish expenses designed to sway doctors towards a product even where it may not be the most medically effective treatment. Some state laws do limit such expenses but the system varies greatly from state to state. This national bill does not appear to regulate the nature of payments but simply requires transparency. When health is at issue, openness is always beneficial and requiring disclosure can add an extra layer of accountability.
Medication errors in New York and elsewhere can take many forms including dangerous interactions between medicines and illegible prescriptions resulting in the wrong medicine being dispensed. Medication errors can also include the prescribing of a medication that is wholly inappropriate or simply not the best option for a given patient. Depending on the circumstances patients may rightly hold both doctors and pharmaceutical companies responsible for poor medication decision-making. Patients impacted by a medical error in New York should pursue legal remedies to hold the medical industry responsible for these decisions. Proper malpractice suits encourage prescribing doctors to truly think through their decisions and prescribe the best treatment for the patient rather than simply prescribing a pill that they heard about at last week’s fancy luncheon.