Collaboration between medical professionals and the healthcare products industry has long been vital to advancing patient care and safety. Healthcare professionals help companies better understand unmet clinical needs, while companies invest in innovative research and product development that are squarely focused on improving patient care and enhancing patient safety.
As a society, we should acknowledge the value of these bona fide relationships. Balanced provider input into corporate decision-making has broad implications that affect everything from product innovation to patient safety. Further, educational and research grants that industry properly confers on healthcare professionals often result in valuable initiatives that help safely bring forth and solidify new technologies and procedures.
Given the advancement of technology in healthcare today, the relationships between healthcare professionals and industry have never been more relevant or important – and have never been more scrutinized or challenged. In recent years, there has been growing public perception that these relationships are less about innovation and training, and more about unduly influencing procurement decisions or garnering loyalty from individual medical professionals. Over the past decade, a number of corporations have been held civilly and criminally responsible for violations of anti-kickback and bribery laws, and some physicians have been appropriately targeted, publicly exposed and both civilly and criminally prosecuted for breaking these rules.
Companies and healthcare professionals must work together to ensure their interactions are compliant with the law and set a high bar for accountability and transparency. Otherwise, questions about the ethics of industry-healthcare professional relationships will have a chilling effect on truly constructive collaboration. Many of the advances in medicine and surgery that we all benefit from today have come from the fruitful relationships between healthcare professionals and industry. Additionally, the economic times we live in demand more innovation to further reduce the costs of healthcare. None of this will happen without collaboration.
Relationships between healthcare professionals and industry are important not only for patients, but also for our economy. The U.S. is home to many of the world’s leading medical device, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as well as world-renowned educational facilities, hospitals and physicians. Ongoing innovation and growth depends on the continued ability of industry and healthcare professionals to work together consistently and ethically.
It has never been clearer that companies and healthcare professionals must work together in an environment of transparency, which includes a defined scope of work and fair market value compensation as minimum requirements for any relationship they undertake. Though the terms of proper collaboration are appropriately being reviewed, it is crucial for healthcare professionals and the industry to continue to work together to focus on improving the lives of patients.
Michael Tarnoff is the Global Chief Medical Officer of Covidien and an Adjunct Associate Professor of Surgery at Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center.
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