Among the many contentious debates embroiling the pharmaceutical industry in recent years is the argument that freebies given to doctors - gifts, meals, dinners and trips - unduly influence the physican mindset. But why do some docs believe accepting such goodies is okay? A new study offers a clue - some docs believe these treats are a reward for the sacrifices made to study medicine.
Two Carnegie Mellon University researchers asked 301 pediatric and family medicine residents about the appropriateness of accepting freebies. But they were divided into three groups. Before completing the survey, one group was asked about sacrifices made in getting their education. Another group was asked the same questions but also whether the sacrifices - poor working conditions and school debt - justified accepting gifts. The last group was asked about accepting gifts but without first being asked about personal sacrifices or justifications that may have allowed them to rationalize.
The upshot? First reminding docs of the effort to obtain their medical education more than doubled their willingness to accept gifts - from 21.7 percent to 47.5 percent - and suggesting the potential rationalization further increased their willingness to take a freebie - to 60.3 percent (here is the abstract).
The finding "suggests that even justifications that people don’t accept at a conscious level can nonetheless help them to rationalize behavior that they otherwise might find unacceptable,” Sunita Sah, the study's lead author and a former practicing doc who consulted for drugmakers, says in a statement. "Given the powerful human capacity to rationalize what benefits us, it is unlikely that we will be able to make a dent in the problem by, for example, educating physicians about the risks posed by conflicts.”
Her co-author, George Loewenstein, was even more succinct: "In other areas of life, bribes are a crime," he tells The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The obvious policy response is eliminating the ability of pharmaceutical companies to pay physicians to prescribe their drugs."