Monday, December 24, 2007

Some Hopeful News (For A Change)

Every once in a great while, I read a story that gives me hope that we haven't completely lost all control over our lives to the corporatocracy. An article in today's Boston Globe gave me just that feeling.

UMass Memorial Medical Center last week adopted some of the strictest conflict of interest rules in the country, in effect sharply limiting the close ties between many doctors and the makers of drugs and medical devices.

The policy should significantly reduce conversations and meetings between physicians and salespeople, and therefore presumably reduce the appearance of influence over what drugs doctors prescribe for patients.

It prohibits doctors and other clinical staff from eating meals paid for by companies; bans all gifts, from candy to medical journals; stops drug companies from giving money directly to individual physicians and departments for educational programs; and places a complete ban on doctors joining company "speakers bureaus" to give talks about products. ...

Sales people will no longer be able to give free drug samples directly to the physician; they must be delivered to the hospital pharmacy. This new rule will probably cut down on much of the contact between doctors and sales people, because most doctors agree to see company representatives because of the free samples, which they can dole out to patients. The samples allow a company to get a patient started on their drug and increases the chances they will use it long-term. The doctor will be able to request samples from the pharmacy.
[Emphasis added]

It doesn't take an advanced degree in quantum physics to understand the connection between pricey perks and frequent scripts. And it isn't hard to understand doctors who feel loyalty to those companies that are providing free samples of the newest meds so that they can dispense them to their patients, but it's unethical and it's wrong. A physician's first loyalty should be to his or her patient, not some corporate benefactor.

UMass Memorial Medical Center has taken an important step in cutting down on this smelly PHARMA policy. It may mean fewer trips to Steam Boat Springs for an educational program, but it will mean doctors will be looking at new drugs and new medical devices to see if they actually are the right choice for their patients.

Maybe Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid would be interested in examining such an approach when it comes to lobbyists and members of Congress.

Or maybe not.

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