How Money Corrupts Medicine
By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Nov 26, 2018
On September 14th, 2018, The New York Times editorial board published a very important piece on the fall of Dr. José Baselga. Formerly a top official at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center — one of the nation’s giants in the field of cancer research — Mr. Baselga announced his resignation from the organization after an explosive joint New York Times/ProPublica investigative report found that he failed to disclose millions in payments he received from large healthcare and pharmaceutical companies.
Patients Deserve Information: Disclosure Rules Matter
Financial incentives affect the decisions people make. This is one of the core principles of economics and it is true in virtually every context. The research on physicians, scientists, and other medical professionals is overwhelming: obtaining a financial reward for making a certain choice or coming to a certain conclusion will impact how doctors and researchers do their job.
The impact of corporate gifts and payments on medical research, and on the medical industry, is actually far larger than most people realize. A 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that no gift is too small to make a difference. The researchers found that doctors were more likely to prescribe a specific brand of cholesterol drug to patients simply because they received clipboards and notebooks from the pharmaceutical company.
If these tiny gifts can make an impact, imagine what millions of dollars can do. This is why disclosure rules matter. If scientists are conducting research or doctors are prescribing certain prescription drugs or procedures, it is crucial that their patients have a full understanding of the medical professional’s relationship with all related companies.
The Corrupting Influence of Money: Patient Health and Safety are at Risk
At the end of the day, the patients are the people that pay the price for corruption in the medical industry. Every patient deserves high-quality treatment. Sadly, medical malpractice and medical negligence remain very serious problems in the United States. In fact, a 2016 study from researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine found that medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death.
The money that doctors, hospitals, researchers, and healthcare providers receive from companies may expose patients to harm. This can happen in a wide range of different forms; sometimes money makes a small impact, other times it is blatant. Among the worst recent examples are cases related to our country’s devastating opioid epidemic. Earlier this year, CNN reported that a regulatory investigation determined that doctors in New York state who received payments from pharmaceutical companies were more likely to write opioid prescriptions. Patients should never have their care affected by a doctor’s personal financial incentives.
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