Physicians all across the United States who have been found guilty of misconduct are still raking in the cash thanks to a legion of pharmaceutical and medical device firms that are reportedly still willing to pay for these “health experts” to promote their products and even act as consultants.
A recent investigation by the folks at ProPublica discovered that hundreds of drug companies and other extensions of the Big Pharma machine are spending mega-bucks on doctors that have been fined or put on probation by state medical conduct boards for engaging in unscrupulous practices.
In one case, an orthopedic surgeon from New York was reprimanded to the tune of a $50,000 fine and three years probation for some shifty business involving his patients and prescription painkillers. However, regardless of the controversy, a medical technology firm by the name of Stryker was still willing to pay the surgeon $14,000 in travel expenses and consultant fees while he was on sabbatical,. In another case, the same company paid $16,000 to a different orthopedic surgeon despite the fact that he had been suspended for two months and put on a seven-year probationary period for an “inappropriate sexual relationship” with a female patient.
What appears to be happening, according to the report, is that corporations dealing in high-ticket pharmaceuticals and medical equipment are greasing the palms of thousands of physicians all over the nation, many of which have been sanctioned by medical boards for serious offenses, in order to have an expert in their corner to speak on behalf of a product. ProPublica uncovered around 2,300 doctors who were compensated by Big Pharma between 2013 and 2015, hundreds of which were either on probation or had their licenses suspended or revoked.
“Apparently it wasn’t an issue; they hired me,” said Dr. Michael Reiss, who was paid $85,000 by Johnson & Johnson following the suspension of his license after pleading guilty to charges of federal tax evasion.
As the report points out, the industry is legally permitted to compensate physicians for their services, as long as the money is not intended to persuade the use of a specific product. Though many in the industry believe that it is an important part of their business to pay physicians for their expertise, critics of this practice argue that it can lead to patients being bent over the barrel.
“I think it’s crystal clear that their fiduciary duty is not to educate physicians and make public welfare better. It’s to sell a product,” said Dr. Charles Rosen, the co-founder of the Association for Medical Ethics, a group working to decrease corporate influence of the medical profession. “I think they’d pay the devil if no one knows and he sells a lot.”
Interestingly, many of the companies uncovered in this investigation have issued statements that suggest they only recruit physicians who pass an elaborate vetting process. But it is worth mentioning that there is no industry standard in place to prevent these organizations from enlisting any physician—even those with questionable ethics and professionalism.
It is now required by law for pharmaceutical and other medical-related companies to report all of the money spent on physicians for the purpose of promotional speeches, consultations and research. ProPublica has assembled a searchable database that reveals $3.49 billion in undisclosed payments to 681,020 doctors, 1,135 teaching hospitals and 1,565 companies. This tool even allows the user to search individual states, which gives curious citizens the power to find out just how much money their doctors have accepted from the medical industry.