New ethics rules that bar Harvard doctors from giving speeches paid by drug manufacturers have prompted one doctor to give up his prestigious academic position in favor of keeping the income from the speeches. The physician is Dr. Lawrence M. DuBuske, an allergy and asthma specialist who is quitting his positions at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. According to the Boston Globe, Dr. DuBuske made about $100,000 in three months last year giving some 40 speeches for six drug makers, including GlaxoSmithKline.
The ethics rules were put in place by Partners HealthCare, the physicians’ group that employs most Harvard-connected doctors.
One Globe reader put this in a good perspective:
It’s a good thing that he resigned. Now, when he speaks, the information he presents will be judged by the standards of a paid speaker employed by an entity with interests, rather than a disinterested academic. Meanwhile, he remains an expert allergist, and will likely find a place to practice.
The contacts between drug companies and academic medicine are extensive. They should be. You want the best, smartest, most creative docs involved in drug (and device) production. But the money involved is huge, and some will get seduced by the Green Side of the Force. Full disclosure of interests is a step, but only a step.
For patients, it helps to know if the prescription the doctor is writing for you has even a hint of a special interest from the drug maker. The many blandishments that drug makers lavish on doctors — even small things like pens and scratch pads, plus free meals and “fees” for speaking at seminars — are known to do their job of creating subtle influence on the prescription writer.
That’s why I recommend that patients look for doctors who have the “no free lunch” philosophy: they accept nothing whatsoever, including samples, from the drug makers. That leaves their judgment completely independent.
You can read more about the “no free lunch” movement in medicine at this website.
I have a whole chapter in my book, “The Life You Save,” on how to become a smart consumer of medicines.