Originally published June 3 2011
How doctors are bought off by medical device makers
by M.K. Tyler
(NaturalNews) When it comes to advertising, are doctors really immune? Every year, millions of dollars are spent by pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers in attempts to win over physicians. All-expense-paid trips to Hawaii, season tickets to sporting events, lavish dinners, expensive wine, T-shirts, hats, key chains and pens. All of this, of course, endorsed by Company X. No wonder doctors are drinking the Kool-Aid.
In a recent investigation, ProPublica reporters Charlie Ornstein and Tracy Weber took a closer look at the relationship between medical device manufacturers and the friends they pay to like them: medical groups and societies. The topic isn't anything new; corruption in the medical industry is a sad but well-known truth. Ornstein and Weber, however, uncovered some startling statistics about just how much money is being spent to influence medical societies and why patients ought to do their own research before opting for a surgery or risky procedure with a doctor-recommended medical device.
The community that Ornstein and Weber analyzed closely is the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS). Citing information from the society's websites and tip sheets about medical devices, such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, Ornstein notes that patients aren't given any information about the potential risks associated with such products or are led to believe they are safer than they may be:
"In several instances, we found that the society's materials or testimony appear to either omit information about side effects or limitations or downplay them."
The investigation also revealed that more than one in five patients who receives a device promoted by the Heart Rhythm Society may not actually meet the scientific criteria for getting one. If that's not cause enough for alarm, consider that a typical medical device could cost around the same amount as an average person's yearly salary.
The response from doctors and the society itself is a typical one: the money is spent on important research that can help the development process of effective treatments. Weber, however, notes that individual doctors and institutions are given money for research, while societies don't do research on their own. The money societies receive may support educational conferences and the like but does not go toward product development.
In his article, "How the Heart Rhythm Society Sells Access," Dan Nguyen calls the society's annual conference "a marketing bonanza for drug companies and medical device makers." At the 2010 conference, $5 million dollars were funneled into everything from exhibits to key chains - all in attempts to buy off HRS gatekeepers. Johnson & Johnson spent $20,000 to have newspapers delivered to hotel doors. Ascent Healthcare Solutions dropped $4,000 on exhibit hall carpet logos. St. Jude, Inc. spent $60,000 on hotel keycards with the organization's name and logo. Medtronic spent $50,000 on shuttle buses.
The HRS doesn't only receive money for conferences and educational resources. Its board members - 12 of 18 directors - are also paid to act as speakers and consultants for medical device companies. But these kinds of relationships aren't unique to the HRS. Other medical societies, such as The American Society of Hypertension, have been reported to have similar "arrangements."
Ornstein notes that the real danger is the uninformed patient. If doctors remain under the sway of their slick, rich friends - despite their best intentions to stay neutral - the integrity of medical care will always be compromised:
"I think that patients don't really understand the role that medical societies play in American medicine today. They help write the treatment guidelines that are used by doctors across the country to decide what drugs or devices patients get. They lobby Congress about reimbursement issues, about new products, about research into particular diseases. They're the ones that put up the information on their websites for patients. And there is a concern that when you have that much power and you're sort of hidden from the American public, that there's an opportunity to sort of leverage that to influence an entire specialty as opposed to just a single physician."
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