Drug Com­pa­nies Influ­ence Doc­tors Diag­noses

June 30, 2005 report from the Seat­tle Times reports that a large por­tion of doc­tors diag­noses may well be influ­enced by large drug com­pa­nies look­ing to improve their bot­tom line. The expose, authored by Susan Kelle­her and Duff Wil­son points out that many of the cri­te­ria used for mak­ing a diag­no­sis have been changed in order to clas­sify more healthy peo­ple as sick, and there­fore sell more medication.

The arti­cle notes that researchers at Dart­mouth Med­ical School esti­mate that dur­ing the 1990s, tens of mil­lions more Amer­i­cans were clas­si­fied as hav­ing hyper­ten­sion, high cho­les­terol, dia­betes or obe­sity sim­ply because the def­i­n­i­tions of those dis­eases were changed. The Seat­tle Times arti­cle uncov­ered that the experts writ­ing the treat­ment guide­lines that for a broad spec­trum of dis­eases had drug-​company ties rang­ing from research con­tracts to con­sul­tan­cies to stock ownership.

The result of this drug indus­try pro­moted dis­ease reclas­si­fi­ca­tion is that tens of mil­lions more Amer­i­cans were clas­si­fied as hav­ing hyper­ten­sion, high cho­les­terol, dia­betes or obe­sity dur­ing the 1990s, sim­ply because the def­i­n­i­tions of those dis­eases were changed. The net results are huge increases in sales of pre­scrip­tion drugs, over­all soar­ing health-​care costs, esca­lat­ing patient anx­i­ety, as well as mil­lions of peo­ple tak­ing drugs that may carry a greater health risk than the under­ly­ing con­di­tion they were pre­scribed for.

The arti­cle notes that cur­rently, due to the expanded diag­no­sis para­me­ters, three out of four Amer­i­cans tech­ni­cally have at least one of the com­monly med­icated dis­eases. But mil­lions of them are not truly sick and may never be, even with­out med­ica­tion. Dr. John Kitzhaber of The Foun­da­tion for Med­ical Excel­lence in Port­land, who was also Oregon’s gov­er­nor from 1995 to 2003 stated, “We have a sys­tem that nobody but Big Pharma is happy with.”

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a Dart­mouth med­ical pro­fes­sor and edi­tor of Effec­tive Clin­i­cal Prac­tice, a jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Physi­cians, voiced his con­cern that more healthy peo­ple are being clas­si­fied as sick only to increase drug sales. He com­mented, “You can’t tell me that three-​quarters of my pop­u­la­tion is sick before I start. That just doesn’t pass the laugh test.” Welch con­tin­ued, “Our busi­ness is in a hard place right now. A lot of docs know it’s not right.”

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