In 2005, stemming from concerns regarding excessive and unnecessary spinal surgery being performed in the United States, a group of orthopedic spine surgeons and neurosurgeons lead the formation of a national, non-profit spine surgeon group created as the Association for Ethics in Spine Surgery. The colleagues felt that there was a great need to address the rampant physician financial conflicts of interest contributing to the overuse and misuse of spine surgery in America.
While initial efforts were directed to requiring the public disclosure of such conflicts in medical treatment, it soon became evident that patient, physician, and governmental education were also important and related tasks.
Within a short period of time, other medical specialty groups expressed their interest in forming a larger organization to ensure a high standard of ethics in the medical field. In response to this, the Association for Medical Ethics (AME) was formed in 2008. While still a fledgling organization, AME has been consistently sought by the press, medical journals, medical meetings and health and governmental organizations. One such example of the Association stepping into a spokesperson role was when an AME Board Member was invited to testify in support of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act of 2008. This landmark bill established a national database listing payments and other gifts doctors receive from companies for using their products.
Many physicians believe their medical decisions are not influenced by their relationships with companies in the medical industry. However, a survey was recently conducted at an “Avoiding Avoidable Care” conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The results of this survey showed that 94% of the attendant healthcare leaders felt that physician payment schemes and physician relationships with medical companies were contributing factors to treatment overuse and misuse.
AME believes that it is important for physicians and surgeons to work with the medical industry, as this is an important source of future innovation and creativity. The real issue, however, is simply the full disclosure of any significant industrial payments to physicians, thus allowing patients to know if a study is industry sponsored.