Doctors — reject the ‘free lunch’ and renew our trust

The Pfizer poster pinned to the wall at my local medical clinic made me wince. Most of us are suspicious of a sugar-daddy-type affair happening…

The Pfizer poster pinned to the wall at my local medical clinic made me wince.

Most of us are suspicious of a sugar-daddy-type affair happening between physicians and the drug industry, and we certainly aren’t fooled by a drug advertisement thinly disguised as pure education.

But what the Pfizer poster shouted at me is that things are worse than I thought — could doctors be so cozy in their relationships with the drug companies that even the optics of this propaganda hanging above their examining tables fails to stir them?

Now, finally, this troublesome relationship is the talk of the town, thanks to a recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“We seem to have conveniently forgotten that the pharmaceutical industry is in business to make money, not to educate health professionals,” said the editor of the Canadian Medical Journal, Dr. Paul Hebert, in his the strongly worded editorial.

Hebert goes on to write that the pharmaceutical industry’s lavish treatment of doctors, which can include free tickets to the ballet and professional sporting events, cruises and access to exclusive golf courses has created a culture of entitlement among physicians.

No doubt this drugging of the ego can impair a physician’s judgment when it comes to pharmaceuticals, especially when these lavish pharma conferences are promoted as “educational,” and when little else in the way of professional upgrading is being offered.

Herbert wants Canada’s physicians to break if off with the drug companies and “place our continuing medical education system firmly in the hands of unbiased and qualified people, not corporations whose main concern is the bottom line.”

He’s right, of course; what Canadian would disagree?

It’s not really our problem where the money will come from, if not from a private corporation. But I’d say our tax dollars will do fine for this worthy cause of keeping our doctors humble and educated, and out of the pockets of drug pushers.

A Whitehorse man we’ll call George is convinced he doesn’t have a doctor because he won’t take drugs.

George, who has made an official complaint with the Yukon Medical Association, asked that his name be changed while his case is under consideration.

George was taking blood pressure medications for five years until a heart specialist told him there was nothing wrong.

But, for lack of an alternative diagnosis to George’s intermittent symptoms, his doctors continued prescribing the heart meds.

George broke it off with his last general practitioner two years ago and has been without a GP ever since, a pretty scary situation for a 66-year-old-man with chronic respiratory problems.

To find a new GP in February, he went to a meet and greet he saw advertised in the newspaper in which a local clinic made up of several physicians was interviewing prospective new patients.

George failed the interview. “They probably rejected me as a patient because I didn’t fit their easy business model,” he says.

George is more than cynical — he is angry. He knows all too well how the “free lunch” system works, especially here in the Yukon where doctors are running their own businesses in a fee-for-service system.

Every time George — or any of us — goes into the doctor’s office for a prescription, the doctor can bill the government. It doesn’t matter if the appointment lasts 15 minutes or three seconds.

And if you sign up for high-blood-pressure meds, you’re a cash cow. George says he felt like someone’s “lifelong cash register.”

George’s issue isn’t money. Like many of us, he gets most of his prescription costs reimbursed by his medical insurance policy.

He just feels used and uncared for by doctors. And that’s just too cruel.

If this is how patients are feeling in Canada, then the physician industry must do something. And changing its relationship with drug companies — and here, in Whitehorse, its fee-for-service relationship with the government — would go a long way to reassure us that our doctors are neither compromised, cold-hearted or stupid.

Herbert says there is evidence that suggests medical education heavily subsidized by big pharma “embellishes the positive elements of studies and downplays the adverse effects.”

And drug-company-sponsored medical education is so skewed in favour of prescribing drugs that education about treating patients, in general, is neglected.

“If you’re talking about depression management, it’ll all focus on drugs and not on cognitive behavioural therapy, screening techniques — you name it,” he says.

“We give drugs to people every single day; it’s part of being a doctor … Patients need to feel that we’re doing it with their best interests in mind all the time.”

The “pharma-driven ‘free lunch’ approach” needs to end, says Herbert.

George agrees.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Eric Schroff, executive director with the Yukon Fish and Game Association, poses for a portrait on Feb. 20. Schroff says he is puzzled as to why the Yukon government is cutting back on funding for the association. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
YG cuts Yukon Fish and Game Association funding, tried to vet outgoing communications

Yukon Fish and Game Association says 25 per cent government funding cut will impact operations

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read