Doctors Urged to Stop Accepting Gifts – A Step toward Eliminating Conflicts of Interest

An Institute of Medicine report released on April 28, 2009, denounces the adverse effects that the health care system suffers from the free gifts regularly pumped into hospitals, medical schools, and doctors’ offices, writes New York Times’ Gardiner Harris. The report strongly advises doctors to stop accepting the gifts. The report says that accepting gifts would “create conflicts of interest, threaten the integrity of their missions and their reputations, and put public trust in jeopardy.”

When doctors accept gifts from drug companies – which may be money, drug samples, office supplies or food – they change their prescribing habits. This change may or may not be conscious, but the “reciprocity instinct” that prompts people to return a favor is part of human nature that has been recognized by psychologists and anthropologists. And when this happens, the patients are the real victims: their doctors may prescribe new drugs that are yet to be tested for their safety or effectiveness, or drugs that patients can easily replace with diet or lifestyle changes.

In his new book, The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care – and Avoiding the Worst, Patrick Malone discusses steps patients can take to avoid being victims of such conflicts of interest. He also explains how an average patient can dissect statistics on drug performance to determine if a particular drug is really as effective as it’s marketed to be.

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