Doctors have an ethical obligation to do no harm. This includes warning their peers about bad drugs or medical devices. However, it is often the case that they do not do so. The standard the medical community tends to follow is to not report. However, it is understandable, though unfortunate, that doctors remain quiet.
The reports of doctors are relied on by groups, organizations, and agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help monitor product safety by alerting them of adverse reactions patients experience due to drugs or devices. However, doctors avoid reporting this claiming that it is too much paperwork for their busy schedules.
Other reasons doctors may remain silent include for fear that they may be sued, may believe that the problem with the product was an anomaly, or that the problem was their fault. Additionally they may have financial ties to drug or device makers through consulting payments.
These types of consulting payments have given rise to concerns that the money might impact the doctor’s decision on the drugs they prescribe or how they interpret research findings. The money might even change the doctor’s sense of loyalty, making it difficult to “blow the whistle” on the person paying them. Breaking these ties can have a heavy cost for the consultant.
An example of these costs is when a doctor who consulted with Zimmer Holdings warned other surgeons in an open letter that a hip implant made by the company was flawed his reputation as a surgeon was questioned. As a result his practice was hurt for a year. Additionally there is a case in Los Angeles, about the Johnson & Johnson hip replacement, that will show the results of doctors not speaking out. Two doctors tried to speak out but the silence of other doctors gave the executives of the company leverage not to act.
Doctors have traditionally conducted research and published their finding in a medical journal in order to bring problems to the attention of other doctors. This ensures credibility of data and protects the researcher but it can take as much as a year or two for the study to be published. Given this there is a need for a forum that allows doctors to share their more immediate concerns.
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