As the medical industry is reassessing how physicians should disclose the shares of stock and other compensation they receive from health-care companies, another ethical question has sparked a wave of hand-wringing at academic medical centers across the U.S.
Can a gift as seemingly worthless as a pen or a slice of pizza influence how doctors do their jobs?
So far, the consensus answer seems to be yes.
Some experts fear that if a pharma sales representative feeds a physician while describing a new drug to him, or leaves behind pens sporting the drug's name, that doctor may be more apt to prescribe the drug, even if the decision is subconscious.
"Most doctors tell me they aren't influenced by gifts, and I think they believe that," says Dr. David Korn, a senior vice-president at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington. "But there are real neuropsychological changes that occur when you get a gift, even a ballpoint pen, for God's sake."
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