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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 10784

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Journal Article

Rogers , W.a.
The tangled web of medical and commercial interests
Health Expectations 2007 Mar; 10:(1):1-3


Drugs and therapeutic devices are an essential part of good health care. The use of pharmaceutical agents has transformed the treatment of many conditions such as cardiovascular and infectious diseases. The nature of health care allows for a wide range of potential interactions between doctors and representatives of commercial interests. The putative advantages of relationships with medical industries include new product information and training, free samples, funding for conferences, support for professional and social activities, opportunities to meet with peers, and the provision of congenial surroundings – supplying the ‘feel good’ element that may be otherwise missing in a busy professional life. We should however also be attentive to the less tangible costs of cosy relationships between commercial interests and medicine. The first of these is potential damage to the doctor-patient relationship via an assault on the ethical principle of beneficence, or acting in the patient’s best interests. A second harm concerns the moral character of doctors. There are a number of virtues that are traditionally ascribed to doctors. Finally, there may be loss of public trust in the medical profession to act as an advocate for patients rather than for themselves or industry.




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Cases of wilful misrepresentation are a rarity in medical advertising. For every advertisement in which nonexistent doctors are called on to testify or deliberately irrelevant references are bunched up in [fine print], you will find a hundred or more whose greatest offenses are unquestioning enthusiasm and the skill to communicate it.

The best defence the physician can muster against this kind of advertising is a healthy skepticism and a willingness, not always apparent in the past, to do his homework. He must cultivate a flair for spotting the logical loophole, the invalid clinical trial, the unreliable or meaningless testimonial, the unneeded improvement and the unlikely claim. Above all, he must develop greater resistance to the lure of the fashionable and the new.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963