Originally Published MDDI October 2005
EDITOR'S PAGE A Wake-Up Call for Ethics
With the mainstream media focusing on a few bad apples, it is essential that device companies redouble their efforts to embrace their code of ethics.
A Wake-Up Call for Ethics
A recent article in The New York Times took a few old examples of egregious ethics violations, added a few anecdotes, and presented a scathing view of medical device industry ethics.
The problem, of course, is that a negative article—whether accurate or not—in a mainstream publication can do a lot of damage. So, the challenge for device manufacturers is to "redouble their efforts to embrace ethics and solid values in their role in promoting the health and well-being of patients," says Blair Childs, an AdvaMed vice president. Childs, who was quoted by the Times, says the article lacks substance. The reporter "had already made up her mind what the article was going to say," Childs says. "The view that every interaction a device company has with a physician is an inducement is absurd—and it's wrong," he says. The fact that such stories are out there, though, troubles Childs, and he says that they indicate that the importance of addressing ethics is a very serious matter.
"At the heart of this is trust," Childs notes. He emphasizes that device companies must ensure that their devices are promoted on sound science, and never on slick marketing.
Just last April, AdvaMed updated its Code of Ethics on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals. Even if there are companies that have taken advantage of their relationships, they are rare exceptions, says Childs. He points to the fact that AdvaMed has been forward-looking with the development of its code of ethics, and the industry has been aggressive in its implementation of it.
Most of all, though, Childs points to this negative publicity as a wake-up call. It is essential that the industry take ethics seriously. "At the very least, there are real legal implications for companies and their management," he says. "Beyond that, it is also about how we are viewed."
Childs readily acknowledges that a key to innovation is physician involvement to ensure the incremental improvement of medical devices. "Constant feedback is critical to patient safety, and hands-on training is critical to advances in technology," he notes. Hand in hand with a strong code of ethics, Childs says that the industry must also do a better job of communicating the value of technology. "Recent studies have shown that medical technology is the most valuable part of the healthcare system," he says, "and we need to communicate the amazing benefits of that technology."
The Times article calls into question the industry's business practices and its relationships with doctors and hospitals. It paints a picture of an industry operating under a cloak, saying that doctors have "unusually close, if largely unseen, ties to device makers." According to the article, five orthopedic implant companies are currently being investigated for their consulting agreements with doctors. It is difficult to counter the article's premise when such active investigations are taking place. Device companies must be willing to consider disclosing their financial arrangements with doctors and hospitals in the future. Anything less may very well be viewed as unethical.
Sherrie Conroy for The Editors
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