From Publishers Weekly
"Some physicians become known as whores." This is strong language in Kassirer's mostly temperate but tough look at how big business is corrupting medicine—but according to Kassirer, one doctor's wife used the word "whore" to describe her husband's accepting high fees to promote medical products. Such personal anecdotes distinguish Kassirer's look at the conversion of America's health-care system into a commercial enterprise. Kassirer, former editor-in-chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine,
notes the range of conflicts of interest between profit-centered business and people-centered medicine, such as the drug industry's huge expenditures (in the billions) for courting doctors to use their products, for recruiting physicians to tout their drugs or, more slyly, to present seemingly objective medical discussions that, on closer examination, do favor the company's product over others. Kassirer also covers the abuses of both fee-for-service (which can lead doctors to perform unnecessary but lucrative tests and procedures) and HMOs (which reward doctors for keeping costs down). The author calls for more scrutiny of the health-care industry by Congress and a "sustained public outcry against inappropriate practices"; the banning of industry gifts to medical personnel; and—difficult to imagine—disclosure to patients by doctors of financial incentives they are receiving.
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From The New England Journal of Medicine
The profession of medicine encompasses a wide variety of ways in which a physician can dedicate his or her life within the traditional areas of clinical practice, research, education, and administration. In this book, Jerome Kassirer, a former editor-in-chief of the Journal, documents, with well-referenced examples, how conflicts of interest, primarily financial in nature, have infiltrated all areas of the profession. The audience for the book is clearly the U.S. public, who, the author writes, "must become involved if we are to change the greed culture that permeates medicine." I agree, in principle, with the author that there are substantial conflicts of interest within the medical profession. However, I question the potential effectiveness of this book as written for the public. The most obvious reason for a physician of Kassirer's stature as a clinician, academician, and former editor to write a book about conflicts of interest in medicine would be to continue his attempts to eliminate or at least decrease a problem that diminishes the profession. But is this book a good way to accomplish that goal? The book wavers between a scholarly work and a sensational expose. For example, the cover features a man wearing a white coat and a neat shirt and tie, with a stethoscope around his neck and a pricey pen and a few crisp $100 bills tucked in his pocket. I was taken aback by the image, which is clearly meant to depict a "fat cat doc" on the take. However, this jarring image is then tempered by the two opening sentences of the first chapter, which declare that most physicians are hard-working and dedicated to their patients and that perhaps even hundreds of thousands of physicians refuse to take any financial gift that might affect their clinical judgment. Then, aside from a few selected exceptions to that supposed rule, the rest of the book is dedicated to stories about physicians tainted by financial self-interest that altered how they cared for patients, how their research was conducted and reported, what they taught, and how they administered medical institutions, with evidence that all of these conflicts of interest led to the detriment of patient care. The final chapter discusses "what can be done," ending with a "possible roadmap" that includes 10 items for immediate implementation that would be possible primarily by legislation. The reader is asked to take a political stand to force the enactment of such legislation. If the reader were to take such action, the author would deserve a medal. However, if the reader's more likely reaction would be to view with distrust all physicians currently practicing in the United States, it would be unfortunate indeed and would undermine the very reason that the book was written. Catherine D. DeAngelis, M.D., M.P.H.
Copyright © 2004 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.