Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Physicians Pharmaceutical Companies

I couldn't believe what I read today. I often use the web site Medscape to review new medical information, obtain continuing medical education credits, and to participate in clinical discussions with other physicians. It is a very valuable resource and helps keep me up to date on new information not only about psychiatry but in other specialties as well. I find the family practice, women's health, and neurology sites the most useful to me in my work as a psychiatrist. There is also a business of medicine component that has information on various issues such as changes in health care laws, practices, updates on Medicare issues etc. I am amazed at what I read in the business section today.

There is an article that discusses various ways that physicians can supplement their income as the cost of practicing medicine has increased with no real change in reimbursement rates. The author of the article suggested one way to make additional income was to "team up with pharmaceutical companies". He was advising physicians to establish speaking contracts with various companies to essentially promote their products. The way this often operated is that speakers at conferences have had undisclosed financial arrangements with companies and under the guise of presenting up to date research are essentially just selling the drug as the latest breakthrough in treatment. This has changed so that now all speakers at conferences and authors of papers are required to disclose all their financial ties to the industry.

Another way that this continues to operate are free Continuing Medical Education (CME) seminars that are usually held at very nice restaurants. The physicians in an area are invited to come to a free dinner hosted by the CME coordinator which is invariably a pharmaceutical company. These dinners usually are couched in terms like "New findings in treatment resistant depression" or "Depression- moving from symptom management to full resolution" or something similar. I did not realize how much the speakers made but the Medscape author suggested that physicians could make over $2,000 per speaking engagement. I have been to some of these continuing medical education meetings and they are nothing more than blatant advertising. I do think it unethical to go to these meetings but many of my colleagues disagree. But to have the Medscape author recommend that physicians become advertisers as a way to make additional income was something I did not expect to see on the Medscape web site.

Thought for the day

Without vigilance it is easy for anyone of us to become corrupt.

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