Investigator questions the Relationship between Physicians and the Pharmaceutical Industry

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(Harvard Law Today) … In the first lecture of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics series, Paul Thacker, an investigative journalist and former U.S. Senate Finance Committee staffer, said that big pharmaceutical dollars not only own physicians but also many prominent medical school faculty who are paid to lobby for drugs.

“There’s this sort of idea—an implied understanding—that doctors belong to us. But that’s often not the case,” Thacker said. Doctors’ dependence on industry money to build and sustain lucrative practices, Thacker adds, troubles the doctor-patient dynamic.

“Why did we care about big pharmacy on the finance committee? Because the federal government pays for one-third of the drugs in the United States; they are the industry’s largest customer.”

Watch the video from Paul Thacker’s lecture.

Thacker is most credited for his queries into the relationship between physicians, especially medical school faculty who receive grants, and the pharmaceutical industry. As a result of his work, the 2009 health care overhaul included new disclosure requirements for companies’ payments to doctors. Several universities have implemented stricter conflict-of-interest policies.

As an investigator for Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Thacker became intimately familiar with the health care industry, its web of moneyed interests, and its excesses. Thacker’s probe into Avandia, a diabetes drug later discovered to cause heart attacks, is one example of his commitment to patient safety.

A former journalist who wrote extensively on science and medicine and their connection to the political sphere, Thacker has earned the respect of many investigative reporters and corruption-fighting legislators. He has reported on drug companies giving away televisions to doctors in return for writing scripts for their promotional materials.

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