What doctors are paid and how it affects your care

Chances are, you or a family member has been the beneficiary of a freebie from the doctor’s office, and we don’t mean a cherry lollipop when the kids got their tetanus booster. We’re talking drugs, often of the prescription variety, that a pharmaceutical representative has left after a marketing visit to the doctor’s office. “Samples,” they’re called.

We’ve covered the dangers and the hidden costs of “samples” for both doctor and patient previously in this blog, Today’s topic is a little broader: the many tentacles of the pharmaceutical industry that reach into the doctor’s office and that can affect the care you and your loved ones get. More specifically, there is a possible pay-for-play attitude that’s harder for doctors to resist as medical costs continue their upward thrust and doctors say they feel increasingly marginalized.

In “Doctor Compensation and Industry Influence,” writer Ed Silverman notes that “The ongoing controversy over financial ties between physicians and the pharmaceutical industry centers, of course, on concerns that medical practice may be unduly influenced,” and that doctors are indignant that people could believe their medical judgment would be influenced by swag. But many doctors are unhappy with their compensation, citing costly and lengthy education and training, stressful and protracted relations with insurance companies, rising malpractice insurance premiums and patients armed with an Internet medical degree and questions about diagnoses and treatment.

There’s a lot going on here, and although much of doctors’ dissatisfaction is righteous, it’s unfair for them to expect patients to:

be sympathetic about the costs of an education they chose to pursue;
suffer their ill will in the face of greedy or incompetent insurance companies; and simply accept that mistakes will be made and that retaining legal counsel is disloyal and unfair.

And it’s just flat-out arrogant and dismissive for physicians to prefer patients who never ask questions, who aren’t invested in their own health care and whose default is to defer to the guy in the white coat because he’s over-educated and underpaid. That’s not good for the patient or, ultimately, the practice of medicine.

A recent survey by Medscape, “Do doctors earn enough?”, generated a robust response within the medical community, and not necessarily for the numbers report (orthopedic surgeons and radiologists earn the most–$350,000 median income-and pediatricians the least– $148,000 median), but for the ancillary issues.

Responding to the survey in “Mo money mo problems,” physician Sean Pannick drew a line of clarity for parties on both sides of the worth issue: “Doctors should look at their income and ask themselves–and their patients–whether it fairly reflects the quality of their work. Patients, on the other hand, also need to be mindful of the financial component to the doctor-patient relationship. They may not know (or want to know) that money matters when it comes to doctors, who often profit more from a series of tests and procedures than a simple clinical assessment. Conversations in the consulting room already mask a number of hidden agendas, and the issue of renumeration (sic) is another one that lurks beneath the surface.”

Absent a truly malfeasant practitioner, the quality of care a patient receives from his or her doctor probably isn’t influenced markedly by occasional, reasonable attention from members of the medical industrial complex with something to sell. But it might be affected by the efficiency of ordering a test over the harder work of having a conversation.

It is your duty to yourself and your loved ones to get the best possible care, and that means asking questions. If you wonder if your doctor has gotten paid to represent a medical product or service, ask. If you have read something on the Internet that might relate to the problem you’re presenting in the exam room, broach the subject. If your doctor is too busy, distracted or feeling too undercompensated to engage, it’s time to go doctor shopping.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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