For patients, trusting your physician to put your interests first is taken for granted. But what happens when the physician is influenced by gifts from pharmaceutical companies to push a patient toward a particular medication irrespective of the patient’s best interests? We see the influence of pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers on physicians’ practices growing all the time. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal shows that efforts to influence physicians starts in medical school and has a profound and lasting impact.
The BMJ study looked at prescribing patterns by physicians who attended medical schools that enforced strict conflict of interest policies, including prohibitions against accepting gifts from pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers, as compared to physicians who did not. The study, partially funded by the National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Mental Health, makes reference to the PharmFree Campaign that was initiated by the the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) “to advocate for evidence based, rather than marketing based prescribing.”
Researchers found that physicians who were not subject to a strict policy were more likely to prescribe newly marketed drugs. The researchers further observed that the longer a physician attended medical school in which the policy was in effect and the stricter the policy, the less likely the physician would prescribe the heavily marketed newer drugs.
Other recent studies show the influence of Big Pharm and device manufacturers on practice patterns. One study showed that expensive robotic hysterectomies are no safer than traditional surgical hysterectomies, yet the device manufacturer and hospitals which have invested heavily in this technology continue to promote the robotic procedure, even though it is much more expensive. Likewise, the medical community continues to invest heavily in profitable cardiac ablation technology even as a recent report shows that the procedure is all risk and little or no reward for many patients.
For patients, the physician-patient relationship is premised on trust. When that trust is broken, the physician betrays the patient and the medical system. When a physician subjects a patient to unnecessary surgery or medications for a use that has not been proven to be safe and effective, and harm results, a claim for medical malpractice may arise under Ohio law.