An interesting (and horrifying) news story caught my eye recently. It was about a vast federal investigation into a kickback scheme between Novartis Pharmaceuticals and physicians from around the country. In documents released by the U.S. Justice Department, Novartis agreed to a $678 million settlement over improper inducements it made to doctors to prescribe 10 of the company’s drugs, according to NBC News.
Essentially, Novartis was bribing doctors which is terrible and one of the things that makes many Americans distrust the entire pharmaceutical industry. However, in my mind, what is even worse is that individual physicians were participating in the scheme. They were treated to lavish dinners at restaurants, costly tickets to sporting events, trips to strip bars and other entertainment venues, gift cards, and catering for events in the lives of the doctors’ children, such as graduations or bar mitzvahs. In some cases, even cash payments were exchanged between the company’s sales representatives and individual doctors.
This disturbing news story brings to my mind the responsibility doctors have to us as individuals as well as to our society in general. Basically, there is a contract…a social contract…that doctors have with our communities to act in morally, ethically and legally responsible ways. To put the welfare of their patients ahead of any self-interest. In doing so, we allow doctors to treat us in times when we are compromised physically, mentally and/or emotionally. To do otherwise, breaks that contract and therefore makes us question whether doctors can effectively treat us in a selfless way.
As you continue your journey toward a role in healthcare, you should carefully consider your motivations and your goals. Why do you want to be a doctor? What do you hope to gain from a career in medicine? And what boundaries have you or can you establish that will assure yourself and your future patients that you have their best interest in mind?
I would encourage you to do some reading on ethics in medicine to understand better what your responsibilities should be once you become a practitioner of the healing arts. One of the best ways to begin your understanding of this important issue is by reading The Physician Charter from the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). Check it out at abimfoundation.org/what-we-do/physician-charter.
The challenge for this week is to COMMIT YOURSELF TO A LIFE OF ETHICAL SERVICE TO OTHERS.