Is Your Doctor Being Honest?: Transparency in the Medical Community

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Transparency in the Medical CommunityWhen I walk into a store, I make a conscious decision of what to buy. I usually research the product or ask the sales staff any questions I have about it. Sure, they’re going to try and sell a product to me, so they may embellish things. But I’m well aware of that going in, and so are you.

Well, a recent TED talk by Dr. Leana Wen got me thinking about transparency, honesty, and the selling of products in the medical profession. Turns out, what you might not be aware of is that one of the biggest and scariest secrets in America has a direct impact on your health and health care.

For many Americans—and maybe for you, too—it’s quite possible that their medical doctor is in cahoots with big pharma. In fact, two surveys in the past 10 years showed that more than three-quarters of doctors have some form of relationship with drug companies. In 2013, there were roughly 3.4 million payments totaling about $3.5 billion.

Where does this money go? Some goes to research, but a big chunk of it goes to getting doctors to promote their products through speaking events and endorsements, and taking them out for a little wining and dining.

This lack of transparency puts your health in jeopardy. If a doctor is being paid to prescribe you blood pressure or cholesterol medication, they have little incentive to recommend preventative measures or provide information on alternative treatments. While they’re getting paid to push a product, you may be paying for a product you might not even need.

Most people don’t know very much about their health or their options, so the doctor/patient relationship, in many cases, is very one-sided. This is a huge problem because such an important and intimate relationship needs to be based on trust. You need to know that your doctor is looking out for your best interests instead of theirs. They should be making recommendations based on your health, not on how much they stand to earn for performing a procedure or prescribing a drug.

This is a very divisive issue in the medical community, because there are doctors on either side of the issue. Many doctors believe in transparency and being open with patients, while others don’t believe they should have to tell patients their beliefs or where they earn their money.

But think about it: A lawyer or executive is obligated to announce a conflict of interest. Furthermore, how a doctor treats a person could literally be the difference between life and death. So why should they not offer outright transparency?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has instituted a law to increase transparency from doctors, but I also recommend talking to your doctor about what their beliefs are and if a pharmaceutical company is paying them in some capacity. It’s your right to know why you’re getting the care you are getting.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Wen, L., “What your doctor won’t disclose,” TED web site, September 2014; http://www.ted.com/talks/leana_wen_what_your_doctor_won_t_disclose#t-926572, last accessed November 18, 2014.
Ornstein, C., et al., “How Much Are Drug Companies Paying Your Doctor?” Scientific American web site, September 30, 2014; http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-much-are-drug-companies-paying-your-doctor/.
Loftus, P., “Doctors Net Billions From Drug Firms,” The Wall Street Journal web site, September 30, 2014; http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-agency-reveals-drug-makers-payments-to-doctors-1412100323.

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