You may be one the of millions of Americans who periodically sit down to clear your mind and blow an hour or two watching some ridiculous reality show wherein contestants are eliminated one by one until only one narcissistic candidate remains. The next time you do so, pay attention to the “professions” of the competitors. Undoubtedly there will be more than one ridiculously attractive young man or young woman who lists their career as medical or pharmaceutical sales. Why do the drug and medical equipment manufactures recruit these young hotties? It is simple, because doctors are a cash cow, cash cows that are more easily milked by gorgeous farmhands.
The unsavory ties between manufacturers and doctors have existed for decades, but have been exacerbated by the proliferation of HMOs. If a company is able to secure a contrat with say, Kaiser Permanente, to carry it’s statin rather than a competitor’s statin, the rewards are enormous. If an equipment manufacturer can convince doctors to employ its devices, the revenues can run into the several billions of dollars. Moreover, nearly each of the medical specialties has formed a “society” wherein its members routinely gather in large conference rooms and convention facilities to hear lectures and panels on the most cutting edge treatments and procedures. Never absent from these gatherings are the medical and pharmaceutical sales teams. Sales teams set up elaborate booths and displays, sometimes running into the tens of thousands of square feet each. They will even leave you a gift on your nightstand, approved by a payment to the society’s coffers. While still other sales staff are sent to meet with doctors individually at their offices. No stone is left un-turned. There is great reward for the sales staff, many making six figure salaries and commissions.
While some universities and hospitals have banned their physicians from accepting promotional materials or speaking on behalf of specific drugs or equipment, the medical societies of the specialties have not. Surprisingly, the societies themselves sell the manufacturers direct access to their members, at a stiff cost. In some cases, more than half of a society’s revenues come directly from drug manufactures and equipment makers.
The effects of this financial influence on doctors comes at the expense of the patient. Patients may not have discounted access to a particular drug–even if the drug is more effective–under their medical plan if the plan has contracted with another manufacturer of a similar drug. Patients are prescribed drugs that they don’t need and asked to buy or are provided with equipment that they don’t require. One study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than one in five patients who received cardiac defibrillators did not meet the medical criteria for receiving them. Large drug makers and equipment makers have paid millions in settlements in civil cases involving allegations of improper kickbacks to doctors and medical societies.
At this time little attention is being shown to the drug manufacturers’ and equipment makers’ magnificent minions trolling your doctor’s offices and grifting the groups he or she is a member of. It is time that more effort is spent on lobbying representatives to pass legislation ending this obvious conflict of interest for the sake of patients. No relationship is more critical than that of the doctor and patient, and there can be no space permitted for cash over competent care.