Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Medicine In The News

While reading the New York Times yesterday, I couldn't help but notice the increasing number of articles about health care. Could it be that all this talk of health care reform is forcing people to look at what needs to be reformed? The ideas of conflict-of-interest and professional integrity have always come up in regards to medical care versus the medical industry. I feel that the growing discontent with the current mainstream medical system has finally reached a point of some kind of public vigilante justice, bent on shaming the perpetrators into following the rules of medical ethics and propriety.

Two articles in particular had stood out: Prosecutors Plan Crackdown on Doctors Who Accept Kickbacks, and Harvard Medical School in Ethics Quandary. Interestingly enough, both of these articles did not make their appearance in the Health section of the Times, but rather in the Money & Policy section and Business section respectively.

The first article describes how federal prosecutors are going to start enforcing laws that make it illegal for medical doctors to accept gifts from industry. They have already been going after the pharmaceutical companies that engage in such practices, but have found that even increasing fines is not enough of a deterrent, as some of them already set aside money for fines that they know they'll need to pay for breaking these laws. Now, they're going after the medical doctors.

[...] federal health officials are forcing a growing number of drug and device makers to post publicly all payments made to doctors who serve as consultants or speakers.

That means that information about the companies that illegally market their goods as well as the doctors who they bribe will be made completely public and searchable.

The second article discusses industry influence on education. The problem that a lot of medical schools face is that a good proportion of their funding comes from private companies, and a lot of star faculty act as consultants for companies to increase the marketability of their products. But what kind of education would future doctors be getting if their instructors were all on the payroll of big pharmaceutical companies? Some would argue that it wouldn't affect their jobs as teachers, but I suspect there must be a huge bias with the dissemination of information.

Harvard medical students, as part of the American Medical Student Association, have worked to make it a requirement that all professors and lecturers disclose their industry ties in class. They are the first and only medical school to do that, which is appropriate in this age of reform because they are ranked one of the lowest in terms of transparency and control of industry money.

Here is where I would normally tie this blog post to Chinese medicine somehow... for today, I think it would be sufficient to simply say that I hope all this reform of the health care system in its final incarnation will include low-cost, low-risk, highly effective therapies - such as Chinese medicine - into the grand plan of taking care of each other.

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