Doctors guilty of misconduct still make big bucks from Big Pharma

The report by ProPublica, the nonprofit public interest journalism outfit, will have Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte wishing he became a doctor.

The study found that unlike the Olympic swimmer, medical professionals often maintain lucrative relationships with sponsors even after they’ve been disciplined for misconduct.

The investigation examined medical records in five states — California, Florida, Texas, New Jersey and New York — and found 2,300 doctors who had received compensation from companies between August 2013 and December 2015, despite having records of misconduct.

Of course, everybody makes mistakes, and many of the offenses that ProPublica uncovered were minor ones that a medical company could reasonably argue should not cast a dark cloud over the doctor for the rest of his or her career.

Harvard Medical School professor tried three tests to see how physicians would react when challenged about prescribing antibiotics.

But some of the doctors receiving payments had messed up so bad that they had their medical licenses revoked (40) or suspended (180). Another 250 had been placed on probation.

Some of the severe offenses include sexual misconduct, overcharging Medicare or Medicaid, and providing negligent care.

Another severe offense highlighted in the report is inappropriate prescriptions. A number of physicians have been sanctioned for providing powerful, addictive painkillers without good cause.

Keep in mind, it is generally acknowledged that the entire U.S. health care system has been asleep at the wheel on the issue of opioids. But one of the physicians highlighted in the report, for instance, prescribed oxycodone to a patient who he had never treated after a mere phone call, in violation of New York state regulations.

"I think it's crystal clear that their fiduciary duty is not to educate physicians and make public welfare better. It's to sell a product," Charles Rosen, president of the Association for Medical Ethics, told ProPublica. "I think they'd pay the devil if no one knows and he sells a lot."

The issue of pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers paying for doctors has become increasingly controversial in recent years, with many hospitals imposing strict rules forbidding employees from accepting payments or gifts from industry representatives. A survey last year found a sharp uptick in the number of doctors that were identified as inaccessible to pharma reps.

Companies have tried to get around such rules by sponsoring lunches or other events that are framed as educational and may not involve overt promotion of the sponsor. A study found that even a free meal appears to have a noticeable effect on a doctor’s prescribing habits.