Most consumers view their doctor as a professional who will treat their illness in an objective and unbiased manner. Unfortunately, some doctors have conflicts of interest of which their patients may be unaware.
The Wall Street Journal reports a new study that shows that some doctors invest in dealers or distributors of medical devices used in surgery. The doctor profits on sales of surgical products. The profit motive may cause the doctor to refer patients for surgery more often than is medically necessary.(1)
The idea of medical conflict of interest isn’t new, but has traditionally focused on the relationship between doctors and drug companies. The American Medical Association set for guidelines for doctors to follow regarding conflicts in 2009.(2) However, there is no measure of how well doctors are following those rules.
A “conflict of interest” is a situation in which “someone who has to make a decision in an official capacity stands to profit personally from the decision”.(3) Regardless of legality, anyone who makes a decision when there is a conflict of interest is acting in an unethical fashion. Judges are expected to recuse themselves (reassign a case to a different judge) when a conflict arises. Ethically, that’s what every public official or business executive should do. In practice, most don’t.
At the very least, officials should disclose possible conflicts and let the consumer or patient decide how to deal with them. Licensed financial advisors are required to do this. Others should be, but are not.
You don’t want your health to be compromised by a conflict of interest. Even a successful surgery can have a lasting impact on your quality of life. That means getting a second opinion on a diagnosis and recommended course of treatment, preferably from someone in an entirely separate medical practice. If the doctors disagree, you may need a third opinion.
If your doc has a conflict of interest and doesn’t disclose it to you, you need a new doc. Integrity matters.
(1) Armour, Stephanie. “Doctor-Device Deals Need Scrutiny, Report Says,” The Wall Street Journal. May 10, 2016. P. A3. (Yes, some of us still use printed versions of newspapers.)
(2) Institute on Medicine as a Profession. “Conflict of Interest Overview”. http://imapny.org/conflicts-of-interest/conflicts-of-interest-overview/
American Medical Association, “American Medical Association Conflict of Interest Principles – Councils, Committees, and Task Forces.” http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/ama-councils/conflict-interest-principles.page?