University

10/21/2010

There's a good reason people don't trust their doctor$

Pop quiz, how many names of pharmaceutical drugs can you name off the top of your head? I have  Paxil, Celexa, Viagra and Celebrex. I even have the little song in my head for the last one.

We’ve been getting sales pitches from drug companies since 1997. We were no longer the patient. We became the consumers.

On the other side of the coin, our doctors have been vendors for drug companies for years. Have you ever wondered if your doctor was prescribing a drug for your health … or because it was the latest and greatest drug being marketed?

Are doctors being coaxed into supporting one drug treatment over another? The work of ProPublica reporters, Dan Nguyen, Charles Ornstein, and Tracy Weber suggests the answer is often “yes.”

Their digging shows that physicians across the country have been treated to $257.8 million since 2009 from just seven pharmaceutical companies.  It’s in the name of science, but has a much bigger impact on sales.

This may not be news for researchers in the fields of medicine and it certainly isn’t for the mental health field. In Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Watters there are quite a few stories about drug companies’ role in shipping anti-depressants into the hands of physicians worldwide.

Watters points to GlaxoSmithKline who so graciously provided numerous researchers and physicians rock star treatment in exchange for “consulting” with them about various mental health issues. Of course the drug company took that information and shaped their marketing around the “recommendations.”

GlaxoSmithKline’s entry into the Japan was fueled by funds given to ‘consulting’ physicians and to research studies that favored positive outcomes from Paxil use. In 2008, GlaxoSmithKline has enjoyed $1 billion dollars of revenue from its new presence in Japan.

I’m sure many folks working at the drug companies see themselves as being noble in the work of helping others, but it’s difficult to see this in light of these dollar signs.

The problem is deeper than just patients getting the wrong medicine – though isn’t that terrible enough?  At the end of this road, the bridge of trust between patients and physicians is being shattered. 

Consumer Reports recently surveyed 1,250 U.S. adults about their level of trust of their doctors and whether or not they felt their physicians should receive money in exchange for promoting a drug to other doctors.

74% stated that they disapprove of doctors receiving money for promoting a drug to other doctors.
77% reported would be concerned and if their physician received money for promoting a drug  to other doctors
Less than half reported that they would not be concerned.

Yes, that would concern me, but I’m also worried that the quality of care and advice my doctors give me would be tainted if they accepted money from a drug company. I’m not alone in this, apparently nearly half of those in the CR study indicated that they would be concerned as well, even for accepting just $500.

Trust is part of healing, and seeing that trust being compromised for the bottom line is disheartening.

We need to clear the air between ourselves and our healers. There are some fantastic and wonderful physicians out there who are truly working hard to be the best at their jobs and providing us with the best known care. But the patient-doctor relationship is built on a fundamental trust, and the fact that many physicians can be compromised by drug companies – and the fact that there’s a well-funded system in place to compromise them - casts a shadow over them all.  If it’s hard to know which doctors to trust, we’re understandably less likely to trust even the honest ones.  

Within both fields of medicine and psychology there is a code of ethics that is built upon the care and compassion of humanity. We’re seeing the institutionalized shadow side of health-care:  the eagerness of pharmaceutical companies and doctors to make money off of illness regardless of the outcome for the patient.  It’s completely unethical.  It is a reflection of the broken values within our society that promotes money and fame over community, peace and happiness.

If the 2000 year old physicians code allows for this kind of behavior, it needs to be updated. 

ProPublica has provided a database that contains nearly 70,000 names of physicians that have taken payments from pharmaceuticals. Search for your physician at this website.

     - Makenna Berry

Posted at 07:09 AM in

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