One of the most cynical aspects of the Illness Profit System, is that it hides its rapacity, behind the smiling humanitarian face of the health professionals who administer the treatments. Thousands of hours of advertising, showing us friendly doctors and nurses being competent and compassionate, re-enforces the natural deference we show to those who care for us when we are weak or ill. The system understands and exploits this just as it does the health professionals in its employ, exploiting their calling to the service of healing even as the system is constantly trying to corrupt them.
It starts with the broad population of physicians tempted with conferences at great resorts and spas, that qualify for continuing education — read presenting information on pharmaceuticals, that just happen to be made by the sponsors.
A second level of the process addresses a more select population. This concerns the fees paid to prominent physicians for speaking at conferences. Tom Detzel writing on the investigative siteProPublica presents a survey of seven companies using data taken from the companies own websites — information in some cases compelled by litigation to be released. In 2009-2010, just seven of the big pharmaceutical companies paid 17,700 presenters a total of $281.9 million to promote their products. These physician presentations were instrumental in a “combined prescription drug sales amounting to 36 percent of the $300 billion U.S. market in 2009.”
But it is in the third, most exclusive, tier of corruption that real damage is done. Science depends on properly executed studies accurately reported in an unbiased way. It is the fundamental code of all experimental research. In medicine it may literally be a matter of life or death. And it is exactly at this vulnerable fulcrum that the Illness Profit System seeks to corrupt physicians and medical researchers.
The Project on Government Oversight, is an independent nonprofit that “investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct to achieve a more effective, accountable, open and ethical federal government.”