Medical Device and Drug Manufacturers Impact Patient Care

Most consumers doubtlessly believe that they and their doctors should make decisions about medical care. Powerful third parties, however, can intrude on the doctor-patient relationship to exert considerable influence on many doctors as they choose among treatment options. Up until now, most patients have had no sure way of knowing about the generous incentives their doctors receive from drug and medical device manufacturers who want to promote the use and sale of their products.

According to recent analysis, these manufacturers give money to about one-fourth of the nation’s physicians, and almost two-thirds of doctors routinely enjoy complimentary meals paid for by these companies. The New York Times determined that doctors who receive gifts from the manufacturers are more likely to take risks in prescribing their drugs. They may prescribe drugs or use medical devices that have not yet been approved for certain uses – which could be tantamount tomedical malpractice. For example, they may treat children with recently developed strong antipsychotic drugs that have not been shown to be safe for this age group.

Patients are right to be concerned about these outside pressures that can make a difference in what drugs their doctors prescribe and what medical devices they decide to use. Lay people may be unaware of these influences and uncomfortable asking their doctors about them. In particular, when there is a negative outcome, patients are right to question why their medical care providers made the decisions they did and whether they had a relationship with drug and medical device companies.

Authorized by the 2010 federal health care reform legislation, the government will soon be issuing new standards requiring manufacturers to reveal payments they make to physicians. Consumer advocates believe that this transparency will reduce the likelihood that doctors will overprescribe prescription drugs or misuse medical devices as payback for favors they have received from the manufacturers.

Up to a certain point, relationships between manufacturers and doctors may be helpful, as research funding from the manufacturers can support doctors who test and develop effective, innovative treatments. The new standards will not pass judgment on the relationships. They will require, though, that the manufacturers publicly acknowledge what they give doctors, from free lunch for medical office staff to million-dollar research grants.

Requiring open disclosure will give consumers the information they need to decide whether their doctors truly have their best interests at heart, or whether their decisions are bought and paid for by drug and medical device companies. Armed with this new knowledge, consumers who feel wronged by their doctors can now consider taking legal action to right wrongs caused by inappropriate relationships and improper medical care.

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