We place our trust in doctors, assuming that they will make decisions based on the best interests of patients rather than the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies. A recent report released by ProPublica has many questioning the validity of this assumption, however.
According to this report, pharmaceutical companies routinely pay doctors for speaking about their products at medical conferences and conventions. Looking only at the seven companies who have disclosed this information, who collectively hold about 36 percent of the market, ProPublica found that these companies had paid doctors more than $282 million. In New Jersey alone, these seven companies paid doctors $8.3 million.
Paying doctors for speaking engagements does not inherently pose a problem; doctors are highly skilled professionals who deserve to be compensated for their time. However, when nearly 400 doctors are earning more than $100,000, just from these seven companies, it clearly raises questions about these relationships.
Can anyone who is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by a company be trusted not to allow those payments to influence decisions? According to a survey conducted by Consumer Reports, more than 75 percent of those surveyed said that they would be “somewhat” or “very” concerned about getting the best treatment if their doctors were getting paid by drug companies.
Former employees of drug companies have sued some drug companies for this practice, alleging that the companies illegally paid doctors for prescribing their medications rather than for speaking or consulting responsibilities. Even if the consulting fees are entirely legitimate, though, the fees create the appearance of impropriety.
But ProPublica also notes that telling patients about any fees may cause problems, as it may lead the patients to question entirely appropriate recommendations. Alternatively, doctors may feel that disclosing the financial relationship alleviates any conflict of interest, and may therefore be more likely to prescribe a company’s drugs after disclosing a financial interest.
Ultimately, this is a difficult situation with no clear answers. If you are concerned about the financial incentives your doctor may have to offer you particular medications, though, it can’t hurt to ask. As a patient, you deserve to have all of the information available before accepting medical treatments and recommendations.