Corruption of physicians by Big Pharma now "limited" to $500 an hour



Congressional investigation over the unethical relationships between doctors and drug companies has led to a change in policy at Partners HealthCare, a Boston based hospital system affiliated with Harvard Medical School, that prohibits its physicians who sit on the boards of various biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies from receiving company stock and unlimited fees for their presence. They are now limited to only $500 an hour, or $5,000 a day, for their services which include things like attending board meetings.

The fact that about 25 vice presidents, clinical department heads, and other top executives in the system will be affected by this new rule illustrates the degree to which the medical system has been influenced by pharmaceutical interests. Physicians from top medical centers, including academic ones, often join the ranks of drug companies and are paid top dollar to push various drugs and treatments. They are even paid with company stock.

This blatant conflict of interest is not isolated to Partners, as many different organizations and academic institutions have come under fire by state regulators, Congress, and even hospitals themselves for allowing this practice to occur. Nationally, there has been a heavy push to stop the drug industry's control over doctors whether it be through perks, incentives or comfortable board positions.

The new policy at Partners prohibits doctors from touring the nation as paid drug company spokesmen, a practice commonly utilized by drug companies to promote their products. Partners will not, however, ban its physicians from working for drug companies altogether. They will still be allowed to sit on their boards and receive compensation - it will merely be "reduced" to $500 per hour.

It is virtually impossible for a physician to be both a physician and an executive for a drug company. For the drug company, he will be responsible for helping it achieve financial success, while for the hospital, he will be responsible for objectively treating patients. A physician cannot objectively treat a patient while at the same time be paid to use a company's drugs to treat that patient. 

According to Dr. Dennis Auseillo, chief scientific officer at Partners and cochairman of drug-giant Pfizer's science and technology committee, all drug companies have at least a couple physicians on their boards. After being named a director of Pfizer in 2006 himself, Auseillo has received over $700,000 in company stocks and compensation. He plans to continue working for Pfizer under the new rules.

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