Friday, August 04, 2006

Doctors taking bribes

How do big pharmaceutical companies sell drugs? Some of the time they bribe doctors. The ACCC’s Graeme Samuel pointed this out in a recent opinion piece and this has now been backed up by an Australian empirical study (here).

The general issue of physicians accepting bribes (lunches, travel, books and employee wage bills) has surfaced around the world – a recent US commentary is here and a NYT editorial on the issue here. The dimensions of the US problem are vast.

While short-sighted greed seems to have replaced ethics in the specialist medical profession an attractive recent development is that some doctors regard their own profession’s behavior as disgusting. For example the Journal of the American Medical Association says doctors should stop accepting bribes.

Doctors used to be among the most trusted and respected professionals in the community. Consumers who transact with doctors do so under conditions of asymmetric information –doctors have the best information about a client’s health and clients rely on their medical judgments particularly in relation to the prescription of pharmaceuticals.

Taking bribes biases professional judgment and endangers the community’s health. The doctors who accept bribes and the companies who pay them are equally complicit in unethical behavior.

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