Allen S. Lichter
Physicians have a moral responsibility to patients; they are trusted to place the needs and interests of patients ahead of their own, free of unwarranted outside influences on their decisions. Those who have relationships that might be seen to influence their decisions and behaviors that may affect fulfilling their responsibilities to patients must be fully transparent about them. Two types of interactions and activities involving physicians are most relevant: (1) commercial or research relationships between a physician expert and a health care company designed to advance an idea or promote a product, and (2) various gifts, sponsored meals, and educational offerings that come directly or indirectly to physicians from these companies.
Whether these and other ties to industry are important is not a new issue for medicine. Considerations regarding the potential influence of commercial ties date back at least to the 1950s and 1960s. In 1991, Relman reminded physicians that they have “a unique opportunity to assume personal responsibility for important decisions that are not influenced by or subordinated to the purposes of third parties.” However, examples of potential subordination are easily found. There are reports of physicians who are paid handsomely to promote a drug or device, essentially serving as a company spokesperson; of investigators who have ownership in the company that stands to gain if the clinical trial is successful; and of clinical guideline panels that are dominated by experts with financial ties to companies whose products are relevant to the disease or condition at hand.
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