Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Doctors Won't Recommend Natural Remedies

In an article from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel titled "Doctors Face Pressure to Disclose All Side Pay", we find evidence of the real reason that doctors are reluctant to recommend natural remedies or alternative therapies for health problems. The article is quite lengthy, but let me share some highlights, along with my own comments.

Why do so many doctors hate alternative medicine? It threatens their extra income.

Oh, didn't you know that doctors get paid for promoting certain drugs and medical devices to their patients and colleagues? As the article states, "moonlighting for drug companies" is completely legal.

Why should a doctor recommend a $5 box of organic chamomile tea bags when he could prescribe a $1-per-pill sleeping aid that just so happens to be manufactured by the very pharmaceutical company that he does "consulting" work for? After all, "...the medical industry spends $20 billion a year in payments and gifts to doctors" states the Journal Sentinel. So why shouldn't YOUR doctor get a piece of the pie? I'm sure he's only prescribing that sleeping pill because it really works, and will improve your health...right? "The deals also can lead to influential university physicians talking to local doctors about drugs that later are discovered to have dangerous side effects. UW doctors working for drug companies have given talks on an anti-smoking drug that has been linked to suicidal thoughts, blackouts and serious injuries, and an antibiotic that has been linked to tendon ruptures. Another doctor spoke on behalf of a company whose surgery drug later was taken off the market because of heart attacks, strokes and deaths." Maybe doctors make mistakes. But they always have your best interests at heart, don't they? "Doctors who have financial ties to a drug company are more likely to prescribe that company's drugs, critics say. And that can mean more use of costly brand-name drugs and less use of cheaper generic drugs." Hmmm. Ever have a doctor prescribe you something, only to find out from the pharmacist that you could have gotten a cheaper generic? I have.

"It also can mean more prescriptions in which a drug is used for purposes for which it was not originally approved. So-called off-label prescribing accounts for 21% of all prescriptions, often without scientific evidence to support it, according to a 2006 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. A study last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 47% of drug-coated stent procedures were for off-label or untested uses."

I'm willing to bet that some of you (or your children) have been prescribed a drug for off-label use. This happens a lot with children, especially. If you are prescribed something and don't look up the drug, its effects, its side-effects, and its approved uses BEFORE you fill a prescription or take it, then you are completely in the dark as to what is being done to your body.

"While it is illegal for drug companies to promote off-label uses of their drugs, doctors who speak for companies can discuss off-label uses in their presentations."

Yeah, and make big bucks doing it. Oh, and let's not forget the doctors who say they only use one particular model of medical device in their surgeries. I know of cardio-thoraccic surgeons who will only use one type of artificial heart valve, because "it's the best." Or is it?

"Thomas Zdeblick, a UW orthopedic surgeon, took a second job in 1998 working as a consultant to Medtronic, a large medical device company. Although Zdeblick was paid $400,000 a year by Medtronic for just eight days of work, the school did not learn how much he was paid until years later because he was required only to list income of '>=$20,000' in his disclosure forms.

Details of the contract became public in 2006 as the result of a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Medtronic and 16 surgeons in federal court. A former employee of Medtronic claimed that Zdeblick and other doctors were given lucrative consulting contracts in exchange for using and promoting Medtronic products. At the time, Zdeblick's patients at the UW Hospital and Clinics weren't told of his consulting job with the company that made many products he used in back surgery."

Oh my.

Well, if you have been prescribed drugs by your doctor, and there was a conflict of interest (like him sucking at the hind teat of the drug's manufacturing company) I'm sure she mentioned it...didn't she?

"...many doctors who spoke to the Journal Sentinel acknowledged that they did not share information with patients about their drug company deals."

Oops. I'm sure she just forgot.

"...many UW doctors said they did not tell their patients that the drugs they prescribed were made by companies that paid them on the side. Of 20 doctors who were interviewed, 14 said they did not tell patients about their financial relationships with drug companies when they prescribed drugs made by those companies."

Yeah. And I'm guessing the other six doctors either didn't answer the question, or just lied. When was the last time you (or anyone you know) heard a doctor say "I'm going to write you a prescription for some Scamapill...but in the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to let you know that last week, Scumbag Pharmaceuticals, who makes Scamapill, took me and all my colleagues out to a steakhouse, where they paid me $2000 to give a speech about how great Scamapill is. Oh, and they also offered me a consulting contract that pays $10,000 over the next year." Probably never, is my guess.

" 'I don't see the relevance,' said UW pediatrician Theresa Guilbert. 'I work for many different companies that make many different drugs. I don't perceive it as a conflict for the patient.'

Guilbert, an assistant professor and asthma specialist, reported payments from five companies, including money for speaking that she described as promotional.

Guilbert said she gets about $1,500 to $2,500 per talk, though about 80% of the drug company work she does involves other consulting."

Did you catch that? Could that be your child's pediatric asthma specialist? The one who wants to give your child the newest asthma drug (probably untested for children) rather than correct the problem through a cleaner diet...and calls you a bad parent, or worse, contacts Child Protective Services, if you refuse her drug company's concoctions? The doctor who is "only looking out for your child's best interests"?

" 'I can live with myself,' said Guilbert."

Of course she can. I'm sure she sleeps well at night. Her mattress must be very comfy, stuffed with all those $100 bills.

I hope her poor, drugged-up little patients sleep so well.

For a little more "light" reading: "Drug Firms Wine, Dine and Pay Up for Doctors' Speeches"


  1. A very nice blog you have here. I enjoyed meeting you the other day and look forward to reading more of your posts.

    I found this post to be very interesting and agree with your thoughts regarding how the system works in this day and age. It's all about the drug companies and making a profit, the patient truly does come last. Some time when you are really bored and want some more discouraging news regarding the health of Americans check out this video...pretty scary stuff.


  2. Mr. H- I saw that one about a year ago. You're right, scary stuff. If you drink soda, you have a choice between aspartame-laced diet or regular, which is filled with high-fructose corn syrup...that stuff is just as scary! Not much of a choice. I gained about 60 pounds on soda, I won't touch that stuff any more! From now on, I'm trying to live by this rule: "If God didn't make it, I'm not eating it." And contrary to some opinions, doctors and those who own junk-food-empires are NOT God! ;-)