Pharmaceutical companies and the doctors who work for them

Dr. Ed of Abducens Nucleus has posted Part 2 of his series “Sick, Sicker, and Sicko,” this time discussing some of the problems in the British NHS. There’s some good points over there, including how fewer Brits see medicine as a good career choice, hence the country is relying very heavily on foreign graduates (which can be dangerous for the health care of the countries from which they’re borrowing, in addition to their own system which depends on the constant influx of foreigners). Dr. Ed then goes on to discuss medical innovation in the US, and includes the following:

Sicko also fails to mention the name of Dr. Maurice Hilleman, an American whom we should all know about. He invented 8 of the 14 vaccines routinely given to young children that save about 8 million lives per year. His measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine protects children against three diseases with a devastating legacy. Ironically, his death came less than one month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that rubella had been eliminated as a health threat in the U.S.

Perhaps the reason the public doesn’t hear much about Dr. Hillman is because he spent most of his career at pharmaceutical giant Merck where he was able to convert his research into life saving products that benefit children world-wide. And to acknowledge Dr. Hillman’s achievements would be acknowledging the contributions of his employer to world health.

This brings up an interesting part of the health profession, specifically the general distrust many physicians (and often the public) have for pharmaceutical companies. I frequently hear the argument that drug companies can’t be trusted, because all they care about is making a profit…that they would sacrifice patient safety if it meant a few extra dollars in their pocket. I’m not here to say drug companies are perfect, as there have been heavily publicized incidences where they failed to disclose certain side effects from their products, but to say they would put profit above safety seems a bit far-fetched. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if they injured or killed all of their customers, they wouldn’t have anyone left to purchase their goods. Or if you prefer to view them as profit-hungry bastards, if they injure a few people the public generally hears about it and the company’s stocks and sales fall…hence it is in their best financial interest to help, not hurt, people.

Dr. Hillman is a perfect example of the public good that comes from these companies, and it’s a shame few know of him. As Dr. Ed says, to acknowledge his achievements would mean you would have to admit that drug companies (and the docs that work for them) actually contribute greatly to our health – something many health professionals hesitate to admit.

Part 2 of “Sick, Sicker, and Sicko”

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3 Comments

  1. dianarn said,

    August 20, 2007 at 11:20 am

    It is in their best “financial” interest to keep people continuously taking drugs. For how would it help them if they actually 100% cured someone? He or she would never have to take another pill again. Now THAT would hurt their financial interest. 70% of people in US are on at least one prescription medication. Almost 40% out of those are on 3 or more. That’s some serious money. Imagine what would happen if people did not need those prescriptions anymore. Same thing with vaccines. One of the reasons Merck is pushing for the HPV vaccine so much is because they’re trying to recuperate some of the billions of dollars lost in their Vioxx lawsuits.

  2. Lily said,

    August 20, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    If they could indeed ‘cure’ someone of a disease, they would still make money because they could presumably charge a lot for that magic pill. Unfortunately many diseases do not present in ways that are curable – even cancer, when ‘cured’, is really just in remission. Most of the prescription drugs people take are for chronic conditions, and it is likely in many cases they could save themselves from taking the medicines if they would alter their lifestyle (diet and exercise go a long way). As it is, most people are unwilling to make those changes and as such end up taking 1 or more medications every day.

  3. dianarn said,

    August 20, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    You’re right. People are lazy. The environment they’ve grown up in is lazy. They don’t want to take 5 weeks to do a treatment or to give their bodies enough time to heal. They would rather take one or more drugs for the rest of their life and complain about how crappy they feel than to change a few things about their lifestyle and not need the pills. We are to blame just as much as the pharmaceutical companies, but I sometimes wonder which came first?


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