Thursday, July 2, 2009

Two States Restrict Gifts to Doctors

New laws taking effect this week in Massachusetts and Vermont ban or heavily restrict gifts from drug companies to doctors. The radio industry had payola scandals decades ago but the medical profession seems unable to restrict its appetite for money and gifts so lawmakers have stepped in. What's sad is that it's only in 2 states.

If doctors aren't embarrassed by all of these gifts why don't they simply put a big poster up in their waiting rooms and a special page on their website so patients can make informed decisions about their health care. After all, do you want a doctor doing your knee replacement who's taken $1,000,000 from a particular device manufacturer or one who has accepted no payments to bias his use of the best products for your care?

Let's be honest, the drug companies wouldn't be spending tens of millions of dollars on these "gifts" (regular folks would call them bribes) unless they increased sales and profits. Doctors claiming to be above being influenced are simply kidding themselves and their profession. The drug companies start the addiction with gifts while they're in medical school and it just gets worse over time.

But perhaps we should take a different approach. In NASCAR they proudly display their sponsors. The biggest sponsors get the biggest decals in the best position on the race car. Maybe doctors should admit they're being sponsored and put patches for each of the drug company products on their white lab coats. The biggest payments earn the biggest patches and best locations. At least then patients would know what to expect.

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