Home > Health care, Money changes everything, The Noise Machine > Money makes the (medical) world go ’round

Money makes the (medical) world go ’round

“Nearly half of the $16 million collected by a professional society for heart specialists in 2010 came from makers of drugs, catheters and defibrillators used to control abnormal heart rhythms, according to data on The Heart Rhythm Society’s website, ProPublica and USA Today report.

That’s not all.  “Twelve of 18 directors are paid speakers or consultants for the companies, one holds stock, and the outgoing president disclosed research ties,” the report added.  Of course, the docs and the society leadership deny this is significant. (H/t The Incidental Economist)

“This is our business. We either get out of the business or we manage these relationships. That’s what we’ve chosen to do,” said Dr. Bruce Wilkoff, the incoming society president.

Others question who’s managing whom.

“What you’re exploring here is the subtle ways in which the companies and professional societies become partners and — wittingly or unwittingly — physicians become agents on behalf of the interests of the sponsoring company.  It has a not very subtle effect on medicine,” said said Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, an expert on the impact of industry money.

ProPublica’s report features lots of telling details about sponsor presence at the Society’s annual meeting, with ads and logos for drug- and device-makers displayed on buses, banners, cellphone-charging stations and hotel room nightstands. All the defibrillator manufacturers were there, with good reason: one implantable device can cost $30,000, and a single specialist can implant dozens of devices a year.

The device-makers call this professional education. But a study reported in JAMA found that more than one in 5 patients who received defibrillators did not meet evidence-based criteria for getting them. Two top device-makers paid millions in fines to resolve allegations they paid kickbacks to docs who used their products, while the Society conference’s main sponsor disclosed to shareholders that it’s being investigated by the US Dept of Justice for similar reasons.

That doesn’t stop industry apologists from claiming that drug- and device-makers deserve credit for “the remarkable improvement in healthcare and longevity of our lives,” as one online commenter put it.

Is the “medical-industrial complex” really good for America, another commenter wondered.

“Just as the banks are too big to fail I’m afraid we have created a medical industrial complex that is going to be hard to defeat, but defeat is inevitable as the strain on the middleclass is beyond rational.  Take more drugs, have another vaccination, develop a new symptom; we’ll treat that too.  But the America population is sicker than ever before while the profits of the multinational pharmaceutical companies remain strong…”

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