One plastic surgeon made $300,000 speaking to other doctors about cosmetic procedures and products such as breast implants. A cardiologist made an extra $100,000 from a medical device maker, a financial connection he never mentioned in a medical journal article which happened to discuss that medical device. According to the NY Times, “In just five months at the end of last year, doctors and other health care professionals made more than $212 million on speaking and consulting engagements for drug and device makers, according to data released on Tuesday by the federal government.” This information, found in a vast database required by the new healthcare law, demonstrates the often murky ties between doctors and medical device makers and large pharmaceutical companies. “Social scientists will tell you that any amount of money will influence people, but I think larger sums can influence behavior more,” said Dr. Aaron S. Kesselheim, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The Times notes, “The list of doctors who earned more than $100,000 in speaking and consulting fees includes practitioners of diverse backgrounds and interests who were paid by drug and device makers for a variety of reasons. Dr. David Kessler, who was the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in the 1990s, was paid more than $200,000; the money, he said, was for serving on the board of Aptalis, a pharmaceutical company that is now owned by Actavis.” These connections should be important to consumers, watchdog groups, and patient safety advocates because they may demonstrate a certain bias toward a medical device or pharmaceutical that isn’t necessarily warranted by scientific research. Such a bias may show up in journal articles or in doctor’s offices. A patient who knows what types of financial ties their doctor has with a pharmaceutical company or a device maker will assist the patient in making sound healthcare decisions.
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