Kudos to Dr. Tom Stossel for his concise and insightful piece outlining some of the underlying absurdities reflected in recent legislation. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed cleverly titled, Who Paid for Your Doctor's Bagel?, he lays out what happens when ideology masquerades as conflict-of-interest. The point he brings forward is the total lack of value (and abuse of taxpayer and private sector resources) in the scrupulous reporting of 'gifts' to physicians worth more than $10.
At the heart of the legislation is an overreaction to examples of real fraud and abuse engaged in by unscrupulous physicians and industry players. Unfortunately, every industry and walk of life have their unscrupulous characters, including the Church, the media, the government, the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, and yes, medicine.
Some physicians did exercise poor judgment, did falsify data, did prescribe drugs they knew were medically inappropriate -- and some industry folks did engage in professionally unethical and illegal behavior when it came to off-label promotion. These people and their companies have been (and continue to be) punished for such behavior.
But to generalize to all industry-physician relationships and suggest that they are inherently evil, is just a bit over the top and throws the proverbial baby out with the bath water. The attitude reflected by many Congressional leaders is one that positions physicians as easily swayed by personal contact with pharmaceutical reps who peddle their wares.
The presumption that physicians are such weak characters would generally be insulting. But to step back and put it in context, it is an absurd and outrageous suggestion. These are the very same physicians that we entrust with our lives. How can they be capable on the one hand of making life-and-death decisions on our behalf and not be able to withstand the influence of a manufacturer's rep on the other?
As we continue to look for opportunities to facilitate needed innovation across the industry, collaboration between manufacturers and the practice community will be essential. Let's hope that reason will, once again, prevail.