I’m not going to pretend to know much about how the healthcare system works. To be perfectly honest it’s a very confusing system that doesn’t make much sense to me. After a little over a decade in the restaurant industry there is one thing I do know about health care, it’s possible that your doctors opinion is for sale to drug companies.
For the past four years the restaurant that I worked at has been able to increase their profits by offering catering specials to businesses. While the clients who take advantage of these services include companies treating their own employees to lunch, pharmaceutical representatives make up the majority (A pharmaceutical representative is a salesperson for drug companies. Their job is to inform the benefits of a certain drug and persuade doctors to prescribe it to their patients).
The pharmaceutical reps have been great clients for the restaurant I worked for. They provided consistent business no matter the season, and would spend thousands of dollars per month providing lunches for doctors and their staff. But do I want my doctors’ opinion to be bought?
Why I don’t like it.
The human body is extremely complex. We’re still learning new things about how it works every month. It’s so complex that it can take several tests and multiple trips to a doctors office before your receive an accurate diagnosis for symptoms that you’re exhibiting. The medications required to cure diseases are complex and come with side effects, and a lot of them scare me. I’d rather my doctor make an educated and completely unbiased opinion about what regiment is best for me.
If I ever experience heart problems I’d rather have a low-dose aspirin treatment be an option rather than whichever drug is currently being pushed on television. Sometimes it seems as though the 100 or so side effects are worse than the actual disease that they’re meant to cure.
I suppose what I’m saying is that I want to have every option open to me. When I get sick I want to know the homeopathic methods available, drugs, and any procedures which may help my condition. I don’t want my doctor to automatically prescribe me a particular drug because he had a great lunch earlier that day on the pharmacy company’s dime.
The Other Side
Whenever an issue that I feel strongly comes up I try to look at both sides. In this instance the benefits come to restaurants and the doctors staff:
Benefits for restaurants
The restaurant industry is one of the few areas of our economy where a small family ran business can succeed. This industry is very sensitive to the health of the market. I remember times when the mere mention of $5.00 per gallon gas would turn our dining room into a ghost town for a week.
During slow times pharmacy reps offer consistent business for the restaurant. While this does not directly help out servers, it does help cash flow and will hopefully allow the business to continue running until the economy picks up.
Benefits for the staff
I’ll admit that when I delivered lunches to a doctor’s office the staff’s eyes would immediately express their excitement. Who doesn’t like a free lunch? Little perks like this can really make a person’s day.
When you visit your doctor you want their staff to be in a great mood. They’re usually the first people that you talk to and they handle a lot of your tests. Many offices are overbooked and overworked. That “free” meal they received earlier in the day may be just the pick me up that they needed to help keep them in a cheerful mood.
I’m not going to pretend that I wear rose colored glasses. I understand that pharmaceutical reps play an important role for drug companies. Research and development for drugs is important and these companies do need to make a profit to continue discovering new drugs. What I do have a problem with is drug companies buying my doctors’ opinion. I’m not really sure how ethical it is for pharmaceutical companies to buy a doctors recommendation.
The future isn’t all bad though. It seems that pharmaceutical companies may have to make public any financial contributions they make to physicians. What does this mean? I’m guessing there may be a searchable database that will expose whether or not your physician received any compensation from pharmacy companies. This could allow you to match a prescription’s maker with your doctor to see whether or not there is any backscratching going on.
It’s not a perfect solution and there may or may not be a database made. However, I suppose it is a step in the right direction.
What do you think? Are you concerned with the possibility that your physician is accepting a free meal?