Should Doctors Accept Gifts?

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March 25, 2019

(by guest blogger Christina Capo)

What if your doctor could legally accept bribes? Giving gifts to doctors by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers is a long-standing practice. One of the first attempts at regulation was by the American Medical Association (AMA) in the 1990s. The AMA guidelines influenced companies to cut back on expensive gifts and programs, but did not have the force of law. Newer laws (since 2013) now require that all gifts and payments to doctors by corporations be publicly reported. Some states and specific health centers have their own regulations.

Nonetheless, a survey of internal medicine by researchers at Harvard attempted to quantify such gift giving. The results were disturbing: 72% of respondents had financial ties to pharmaceutical or medical device industries.

The practice of giving gifts to doctors by pharmaceutical and medical device companies is ethically troubling, for several reasons:

  1. If doctors are partnering with specific companies, this may hinder patients from accessing the least expensive drugs available, since the physicians are more likely to prescribe the brand name.
  2. Money spent by these companies on marketing to doctors inflates the prices of their products, an increase that ultimately falls on the patient. Many patients do not have access to cheaper options when it comes to medications or medical devices; they either pay the price or forgo treatment.
  3. Modern health care is supposed to be patient-centered. If pharmaceutical and medical device companies continue to market to health care professionals, where do we draw the line between profit to the industry and benefit to individual patients?

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