A Spoonful of Sugar Won’t Make This Medicine Go Down

Written by Angela Atkinson

By Angela Atkinson

“It is a wise mans part, rather to avoid sickness, than to wishe for medicines.” ~Thomas More, Utopia [sic]

As many of my readers are aware, one of the ways I find fulfillment in my life is through my writing and editing career.

I love my work and I feel so lucky that I get paid to do what I feel passionate about.

Every now and then, a story I’m working on really hits home with me.

Such was the case with a recent one I wrote–and this time, the subject matter surprised and frustrated me, all at once.

Forgive me, but I’m going a little off-topic today because I feel like this issue needs to be brought to light.

In addition to my other freelance jobs, I’m the managing editor for a healthcare news website called Scrubs & Suits.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article about three Harvard doctors who were accused (and apparently found guilty) of accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies. It seems that these primary care docs may have been prescribing certain drugs over others because of the kickbacks they were receiving.

Yep, you read it right. They are prescribing drugs made by certain bribe-giving pharmaceutical companies because they are being paid by the drug companies to do it. Except, they’re not calling it a bribe–they’re calling it a “consulting fee.” Seriously.

After I wrote that piece, I started wondering–would these docs also prescribe medicine for someone who really didn’t need it in order to get a little extra spending money?

And if meds are only prescribed when needed, what if a different brand or type of medicine would work better? Would the doc prescribe a “lesser” drug if he got a kickback for doing so?

My mind went in a million directions. What if this happened to a loved one? What if it were me, or my husband…or even worse, my children? My faith in the primary care docs I’ve trusted for years wavered for a moment.

I got over it pretty quickly, mostly because I do trust our doctors after working with them for so many years, and because I don’t believe that any of them would stoop to that level.

Still, doctors are only human–and while I’m certain that the majority of them are honest and wouldn’t take bribes from drug companies, I’ve heard from various people in the healthcare industry that it’s a pretty common practice.

The reason some may do it, as I understand it, is to supplement their surprisingly low incomes (on average, a primary care doc makes a “mere” $160,000 a year, according to a healthcare consultant I  interviewed for the article.)

And even for those on the higher end of the scale (such as the Harvard docs I wrote about), dollar signs can be pretty hard to ignore. I get it–but I don’t like it.

What about ethics?

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to be treated by a doctor who sticks to his or her ethics (you know, the ones they’re supposed to embrace when they become doctors.) And that goes double for my children.

None of us should have to worry that a doc would prescribe a potentially harmful drug just to help line his pockets a little more, am I right?

The unfortunate thing is that your doc won”t tell you if he’s taking kickbacks from a drug company. Still, there are things you can do to help ensure your safety and the legitimacy of the prescriptions your doctor is giving you. Check out these ten rules for safer drug use.

How would you feel if you knew that your doctor gave you a prescription after accepting a kickback from a drug company? Would it make you question his motivation? Tell me in the comments!

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