"We, as physicians cannot do the things we do and provide the care we provide ... without the tools provided by industry," said Dr. Laurence Epstein, chief of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Conversely, the companies would not know what to develop or how to refine the technology without the input from physicians. Physicians should be fairly compensated for the time they spend on these endeavors."
Others agreed that the pharmaceutical industry plays a key role in providing funding for continuing medical education as well as research into cutting-edge treatments and technologies.
"With the low funding rate from [the National Institutes of Health], many academic institutions depend on financial support from pharmaceutical [and] device companies to do research," said Dr. Stacia Sailer, associate professor of medicine at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass.
But while most experts agree that conflicts of interest are a serious threat to the honesty in a patient-doctor relationship, many patients said that they fully trust their doctors and remain unconcerned about any of their doctors' potential ethical conflicts.
"I don't care at all. I really, truly don't," said Judith Ursitti of Dover, Mass., whose son, Jack, 8, has autism. "When I take Jack to a specialist, I research their level of knowledge and how they treat other patients. If I see that they have financial ties to other companies, it doesn't bother me, as long as they are knowledgeable about my son's condition."
Ed Barnhart, 57, of Osage City, Kan., has been seeing a cardiologist for blood clots. Barnhart echoed Ursitti's belief that his doctor's tie to a pharmaceutical company would not necessarily affect the quality of the treatment he received as a patient.
"I wouldn't have a problem with it as long as my doctor is helping and [the treatment they provide] is the best possible way to help me as a patient," Barnhart said. "I would hope most of the people signed on to these ties are ethical, so I don't need to know."