Your story about the pharmaceutical industry’s payments to doctors who lecture in continuing medical education programs, and your editorial advocating disclosure of these payments, did not deal with the basic questions: Why should drug companies provide any funds for doctors’ education — a cost they simply add to the already exorbitant prices of prescription drugs? Other professions pay for their own continuing education, and so should doctors.
Why are drug companies willing to expend all this money — billions of dollars a year nationally — on doctors? After all, they are for-profit businesses, not charities. The answer is that they get something in return — speakers who will promote their drugs, however subtly, as well as a drug-intensive style of medical practice, and who know that if they want to continue in this lucrative sideline, they will not argue against sponsors’ drugs. This is really marketing disguised as education, and the medical profession should put a stop to it.
The writer is a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School.