The medical industry, like other industries, is a business. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell have become increasingly concerned with the practice of physicians accepting substantial compensation from pharmaceutical companies – a classic conflict of interest putting patients at risk. The practices involved in drug company compensation vary, but often take the same general form. A doctor agrees to “educate” his colleagues about a specific drug or line of drugs, and in turn receives a paycheck from the pharmaceutical company that manufactures those drugs.
That paycheck can represent literally tens of thousands of extra annual income. In fact, according to a recent Chicago Tribune report, eleven doctors in Illinois received six-figure “supplemental” incomes from the pharmaceutical companies in the period between January of 2009 and June of 2010. Thirteen more Illinois doctors each earned between $75,000 and $100,000 in this compensation during the same period. Scores more earned lesser, but still substantial, amounts.
And although both the drug companies and the physicians insist that these activities are strictly “educational,” it is obvious to any lay observer that the physicians are in fact marketing and promoting these drugs. The most common “educational” activity for which these doctors are compensated is speaking about the supposed benefits of the drugs from a script or outline written by the drug company, at drug-company sponsored events.
Until very recently, the information about which doctors were receiving this type of compensation was almost impossible to come by. But under intense public and governmental pressure, the drug companies have now begun releasing this data. Some of these revelations come as the result of the courageous actions of those who have brought medical malpractice lawsuits. But by 2013, all pharmaceutical companies will be required to make such disclosures under the new federal Physician Payments Sunshine Act – provided that this provision, a part of the controversial healthcare overhaul, survives the ax of the new Congress.
What has come to light is disheartening, although unfortunately not surprising to the top Chicago medical malpractice lawyers of Passen & Powell.
Because prominent and respected doctors have more sway with their peers, these doctors are more valuable to drug companies and are most likely to be involved in these shady arrangements. For example, pharmaceutical companies have made such arrangements with prominent doctors at the psychiatry department at Rush University Medical Center. The Illinois public has also recently learned that such relationships exist at prominent local practices in headache medicine and urology.
Nor are these relationships only harmful in theory: they can lead to any number of disadvantages for ordinary patients. Much local press has been given lately to the overprescribing of certain medications by certain doctors. For instance, the local psychiatric hospital whose resident physicians have close financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which has recently been publicly accused of overmedicating children – writing unnecessary and inadvisable prescriptions for the very drugs they are paid to promote.
In the situations receiving media attention, this is due to the direct influence of the drug companies: the prescribing physicians are on pharmaceutical payroll. But our experienced medical malpractice attorneys believe that this problem is also far more subtle – physicians who have attended these “educational” events, “informed” by a trusted, respected physician that a particular drug has vast benefits, begin to prescribe these drugs when they would not previously have done so – and at times when the necessity of the prescription may be questionable.
As one example, we have recently written about the millions of Americans who have never had a heart attack who have been are are still being prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins – when research shows that statins are ineffective and potentially dangerous when used in this fashion. Likewise, literally millions of American children have been and continue to be prescribed medications such as Ritalin, a mood and personality-altering drug with dangerous potential side effects, for mild forms of attention deficit disorder – although research has shown that other treatments, including things as simple (and inexpensive) as 20 minutes a day of outdoor “nature” play can be equally effective in managing this condition. Although other factors are in play as well, his is a part of the explanation for this nationwide overuse of these very serious medications.
But there is also a more commonplace harm done to patients by these financial relationships. Patients in the care of these doctors, or other physicians who have attended these “educational” events, are often prescribed medications that are unnecessarily expensive.
Many Chicagoans have seen this occur: they are prescribed a drug, only to learn at the pharmacy that the drug costs much more than expected, carries the highest co-pay, or is simply not covered by insurance. The most persistent of these patients return to their doctors, and often learn that inexpensive alternatives exist, but were not presented by the doctor in the initial visit. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers believe that this is often due to the influence of the drug companies, whether directly or because the prescribing physician has attended a drug-company scripted “educational” event.
These concerns are not hypothetical. Whistleblowers within the pharmaceutical industry have revealed the companies’ own research showing that these “educational” events directly influence the prescribing behavior of those who attend. Likewise, outside research has revealed the influence of financial relationships on doctors’ prescribing practices.
Even some within the medical industry have recognized the dangerous nature of these relationships. Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, a highly respected physician who serves as the editor of the prominent Journal of the American Medical Association, has publicly expressed her disapproval of these relationships, calling them “a conflict of interest” that puts the best interests of patients in peril. Likewise, the Institute of Medicine and the Association of American Medical Colleges have both expressed their misgivings about the practice. Yet even those doctors who are concerned about the actions of their colleagues routinely report that they believe themselves immune to these practices.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.