Physicians hold drug companies to higher
standards than other businesses
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[MARCH 4, 2006]
YORK -- Most physicians recognize that pharmaceutical companies need
to make a profit on the drugs they sell, but physicians also seem to
feel that the drugs should not be priced beyond the means of
patients to afford them, results of a survey suggest.
Dr. Alan Mittleman at the Jewish Theological
Seminary in New York and Jared Pasternak at the New York Medical
College in Valhalla designed a survey to obtain physicians' opinions
regarding the value of new drugs and the social ramifications of the
drug pricing. The survey was administered by HCD Research, based in
The survey presented a hypothetical situation in
which a new drug that slows tumor growth extends the lifespan of
patients with late-stage colorectal, breast or lung cancer by about
five months. The drug manufacturer has set the price of the drug at
$8,000 per month per patient.
A total of 658 physicians responded to the question of whether or
not the drug company was acting ethically in its pricing of this
drug, as a business and as a health care company.
The majority, 54.4 percent, responded that the company was
behaving ethically as a business but not as a health care company;
12.5 percent thought they were ethical both as a business and as a
health care company, and 27.98 percent felt they were unethical in
Out of a list of words and phrases that the respondents thought
best to describe the company, more than half chose "exploitative"
and "greedy." About one-third considered the company to be
"fulfilling their duty as a profit-driven company." Fewer than 14
percent described the company as "optimizing resources for future
"Physicians seemed to be rather outraged by the pricing policy,"
Mittleman said in an interview with Reuters Health.
"They seem to want to hold (drug companies) to a higher standard
of social responsibility," he continued. "They believe the companies
have responsibilities that extend beyond profit maximization for
shareholders to a social responsibility similar to what doctors
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In general, Pasternak said, "Doctors were a lot more
understanding of the need for pharmaceutical companies to be
profitable than I thought they would be. They think it's fine to
charge what needs to be charged to stay in business, but it's not OK
to charge exorbitant prices."
He also believes that drug companies "should take physicians'
opinion on issues like this into consideration, because ultimately
it will be the physician who will advise patients whether the drug
is worthwhile, taking into account both the cost and the benefit."
In evaluating the survey results, Glenn Kessler of HCD Research
looked at it another way. "My reaction is: How do you become a good
pharmaceutical company if you're not a good business?" he said.
"It's profit that makes pharmaceutical companies leading
employers in the U.S. and leading innovators in the world of health
care," he added. "Without investors getting a return on their
investment, that whole cycle of creating powerful, efficacious drugs
will go down the tubes."
"It's clear that we need deeper conversation and analysis of how
companies can do both" -- yield a profit while maintaining their
responsibilities as health care companies, Mittleman said. "It's a
good topic for dialogue between the front-line physicians and the
people who enable them to do what they do -- the drug
--2006 HCD survey
provided to LDN by HCD Research]