Remedial training for neurosurgeons: “Don’t bill for procedures you didn’t do!”

Dr. Vishal James Makker is an Oregon neurosurgeon with movie star good looks, a bedside manner that’s been described as “charming”, and a distressingly questionable track record for performing multiple spinal operations on his patients. In fact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalists at ProPublica have revealed that an analysis of Medicare data shows that Makker had the highest rate of repeat surgeries in the U.S. –  a rate that’s nearly 10 times the national average.  Continue reading

Is ugliness a disease?

Something strange is happening in medicine, according to physician,  bioethicist and author Dr. Carl Elliott in his landmark article in The Guardian called Is Ugliness a Disease?  No longer, he claims, is medicine being used merely to cure illness. Medicine is now being used in the pursuit of happiness. We take Viagra at bedtime and Ritalin before work. We inject Botox into our wrinkled brows and rub Rogaine on our balding heads. We swallow Paxil for shyness, Prozac for grief, and Buspar for anxiety.

“For stage fright we use beta blockers; for excessive blushing and sweating, we get endoscopic surgery. We ask surgeons to trim down our noses and suck fat from our thighs in the pursuit of what we believe to be our true selves.  Continue reading

Paying illegal kickbacks to doctors: just the cost of doing business for Big Pharma?

The drug company Novartis has agreed to pay $422.5 million in criminal and civil penalties for promoting illegal use of its epilepsy drug Trileptaland five other Novartis drugs, the U.S. Department of Justice announced recently. The cases charged the company with promoting off-label use of Trileptal for medical conditions it had not been tested or approved to treat, and also for its illegal targeted marketing efforts.

The marketing efforts that prosecutors took exception to included paying kickbacks to physicians to encourage them to prescribe more of these drugs.

Now, that word kickbacks is a loaded word, and one that I’d imagine the docs who have been accepting this drug money would not likely ever use themselves.   Continue reading

Why you should take Zoloft – for everything!

The smarty-pants over at The Onion have come up with a few new uses for Pfizer’s blockbuster anti-depressant drug Zoloft while taking aim at those Direct-To-Consumer (“ask your doctor”) ads convincing consumers they need it. Even though this concept is a gag, it’s frighteningly close to the reality that Big Pharma is creeping towards.  Continue reading

Fewer physicians are now agreeing to see drug reps

What seems like very good news for those of us concerned about the too-cozy relationship between Big Pharma and our physicians is being viewed with alarm by the drug industry-funded website Policy & Medicine, whose motto is “Supporting Innovation Through Collaboration”.

This is a CorporateSpeak tagline that’s roughly translated as:

“We Put Doctors On Our Payroll So They’ll Flog Our Drugs For Us”

According to Policy & Medicine, a recent U.S. study is “troubling” for both patients and physicians.  Oddly enough, as a heart attack survivor and consumer of a fistful of cardiac meds every morning, I am not remotely “troubled” by this study’s results.  In fact, I’m considerably cheered up.  Here’s why:   Continue reading

Harvard cozies up with Big Pharma

It was like something out of the movie Michael Clayton – only with Big Pharma as the villain: a Pfizer drug rep sporting a severe black suit and taking cell phone pictures of students protesting Harvard Medical School’s ties to the drug industry. Staged last October, the Boston gathering was sparsely attended, with a few students holding signs and a petition delivered to an empty office (the dean was out of town).

But the photographer’s appearance was notable enough to merit a story in the New York Times, which eventually led to a U.S. Senate committee investigation.

And so it goes for Harvard Medical School, according to a report in Boston Magazine that reveals Harvard has actually been under increasingly intense scrutiny since 2008, when a series of incidents put a spotlight on the venerable university’s symbiotic –  if awkward –  relationship with drug companies.

The trouble started that summer, after Dr. Joseph Biederman, a child psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor, was found to have taken more than $1.6 million in payments (which he apparently failed to fully disclose to the school as required) from the maker of a major anti-psychotic drug he’d been prescribing.  Continue reading