By Sunita Sah and Adriane Fugh-Berman
April 30, 2013
Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, Volume 14, No. 3, August 2013,
Forthcoming Edmond J. Safra Working Papers, Forthcoming
Pharmaceutical and medical device companies apply social psychology to influence physicians’ prescribing behavior and decision-making. Physicians fail to recognize their vulnerability to commercial influences; due to self-serving bias, rationalization, and cognitive dissonance. Professionalism offers little protection; even the most conscious and genuine commitment to ethical behavior cannot eliminate unintentional, subconscious bias. Six principles of influence — reciprocation, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity — are key to the industry’s routine marketing strategies, which rely on the illusion that the industry is a generous avuncular partner to physicians. In order to resist industry influence, physicians must accept that they are vulnerable to subconscious bias, and have both the motivation and means to resist industry influence. A culture in which accepting industry gifts engenders shame, rather than gratitude, will reduce conflicts of interest. If greater academic prestige accrues to distant, rather than close relationships with industry, a new social norm may emerge that promotes patient care and scientific integrity. In addition to educating faculty and students about the social psychology underlying sophisticated, but potentially manipulative marketing and about how to resist it, academic medical institutions should develop strong organizational policies to counteract the medical profession’s improper dependence on industry.
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