Thursday, March 13, 2014

Commercialism in health and medicine

Buying Health: The Costs of Commercialism and an Alternative Philosophy

There are only three topics of health policy in the newspapers (unfortunately): waiting lists, copayments and privatization. As soon as one topic drops from the agenda, the informational cascade starts with the following one. The last one, privatization is still a concept in need of definition and measurement. I already covered this issue last year and I don't want to repeat it.
Today I would like to insist that beyond a new framing of the concept, maybe we have to change the scope and the term. The right term could be commercialism. We have to understand better how and when commercialism is undermining professionalism.
Jerome Kassirer wrote an excellent piece (US oriented) in Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics some years ago that it is still a reference for today. His words:
Professionalism is fundamentally a pact with society. In recognition of certain behaviors and attributes, society confers professional status on us. These privileges are not bestowed, but are earned, and they must be renewed repeatedly for the status to be preserved. Professional behaviors include technical competence that is valued and that adds value, a commitment to self-improvement, a commitment to selfmonitoring and self regulation, and a commitment to use the unique knowledge and competence for the best interests of our patients. This last requirement should include a commitment to resolve conflicts of interest in our patients’ favor.

Is money trumping professionalism? Certainly the pharmaceutical money tsunami is having major adverse effects. It tends to distract faculty into emphasizing profitable research and to neglect their teaching duties. It replaces openness with secrecy, it privatizes knowledge, and it replaces part of the social commons by commercializing discovery. In many instances, it downplays knowledge as a social good. It has also created a culture within which the design of studies is sometimes jiggered to create positive results, in which unfavorable results are sometimes buried, where communication of results is sometimes hindered for commercial reasons, and where bias in publications and educational materials has gone completely unchecked
Maybe there are excessive generalizations, but take it as a general statement to be confirmed by facts and data.
Churchill and Churchill go beyond the usual scope. Their recent article abstract says:
This paper argues that commercial forces have steadily encroached into our understanding of medicine and health in modern industrial societies. The impact on the delivery of personal medical services and on common ideas about food and nutrition is profound and largely deleterious to public health. A key component of commercialization is reductionism of medical services, health products and nutritional components into small, marketable units. This reductive force makes both medical services and nutritional components more costly and is corrosive to more holistic concepts of health. We compare commercial and holistic approaches to nutrition in detail and offer an alternative philosophy. Adopting this alternative will require sound public policies that rely less on marketing as a distribution system and that enfranchise individuals to be reflective on their use of medical services, their food and nutrition choices, and their larger health needs
I deeply agree with such perspective.

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