The Relationship Between Money and Medicine


I have previously discussed a troubling issue about how pharmaceutical companies pump money into the medical profession in an effort to influence doctors to prescribe their drugs.

My previous post cites a New York Times article which shows how the money that pharmaceutical companies pay to doctors (for things such as speaking fees, lunches, and travel) can effect the decision making process and lead to the prescription of unnecessary or inappropriate medication which puts patient safety at risk.

medical malpractice prescription medicationConflicts of Interest in Health Care – “Where we Live”

The influence that drug companies have on doctors continues to be extremely troubling.  A recent segment on “Where We Live” also addresses this issue.  In this article, a WNPR journalist reports that drug companies spend millions of dollars marketing to doctors, which includes direct monetary payments as well as non-monetary perks.  As a result, one doctor interviewed for the segment named Dr. Steve Smith, says his community health clinics have decided not to allow any drug representatives to solicit at his facilities. Dr. Smith feels this prohibition is necessary because he says doctors may feel indebted to the drug companies that provide them with free things, even something as small as a free lunch.

While contact between doctors and drug companies may be inevitable, it needs to be regulated carefully so that doctors do not put financial or personal incentives – even subconsciously – over the best interests of their patients.  Dr. Smith suggested, for example, that the drug reps should come by appointment and outside of the patient care arena.  Another medical professional interviewed by WNPR named Dr. William White, from the University of Connecticut medical school, agreed and explained that drug company reps are currently not allowed in any of their teaching areas.

How Much Money Do Pharmaceutical Companies Spend to Market Their Drugs?

For more information on where the drug company money is going, you can check out ProPublica’s website.  This website is a great way to browse available information on these issues and become more informed about this topic. For example, the ProPublica website indicates that during the most recent 12 month period, drug companies have paid healthcare providers in New York over sixty-million dollars ($60,145,727.00). Remember, this figure may be too low since it reflects the total payments that have actually been disclosed.

The Where We Live radio show includes an interview with a ProPublica reporter about the public disclosure of this information.  The journalist says the response from doctors to the disclosure of this type of financial data has been mixed. Some doctors clearly prefer to keep this information hidden.

Fortunately, most universities and their hospitals have specifically prohibited doctors from giving speeches that have been prepared by drug companies.  However, until recently these rules have been self-policed. As a result, there have been doctors who have gone ahead and given these canned speeches anyway.  Now with websites and organizations like ProPublica, as well as new legal regulations from the national health care law, it is getting harder for them to get away with it.

Is It a Real Concern?

How much do you think drug company marketing is affecting patient care?  Can doctors still make the right decisions even when being bombarded by drug company marketing?  Is this something you would talk to your doctor about at your next check up?

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Empowering Patients: Are You Getting the Medical Information You Need?

Lawmakers Require Disclosure of Drug Manufacturers’ Payments to Medical Providers

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