Employees in most workplaces share a feeling of trust and sense of community. In some cases those feelings may actually persist across individual workplaces and thrive among all professionals in the same field. Lawyers are certainly not immune to this. While we may disagree vigorously in the courtroom, there exists a share of congeniality and shared experience among many attorneys. This is not surprising, considering that similar educational backgrounds, interests, strengths and knowledge makes it easy for bonds to be built.
All of this is a good thing in most cases, allowing workplaces and professional actions to run smoothly. Yet, there are some situations where a failure to speak out against colleagues or others in the same profession can cause real harm. That is perhaps most evident in the medical field. When the health of community members is on the line, then it is obviously critical that medical professionals place patient well-being above all else–even when it conflicts with professionals relationships or the status quo.
The New York Times recently shared a story on doctors who remain silent when presented with disturbing issues related to patient safety. The Depuy hip implant example is used to show how patients may be harmed seriously as a result of professionals’ unwillingness to speak out in a timely fashion, even if it may ruffle feathers.
Problems with Depuy Hip Implants
Documents recently made public as part of the high-profile Depuy hip implant cases show how certain medical professionals knew of problems–and told those problems to business executives–long before the public was made aware. Specifically, executives from Johnson & Johnson allegedly were told by medical consultants hired by the company that they should slow down their marketing of certain DePuy hip implants until they learned exactly why they were harming so many patients.
Yet, those doctors never actually spoke out to the public. And the hip implants were not recalled for another two years–after being installed in thousands and thousands more patients.
Why didn’t they speak up? Don’t doctors have an obligation to protect patients, even if that means saying things that may hurt the bottom line of a company that is paying them?
The Times story lists many different factors that likely contributed to the medical professionals staying silent. Fear of lawsuits, uncertainty about the long-term term reliability of their suspicions, and simple “busyness” all may lead to doctors remaining silent about dangerous products or drugs. All of this is not even counting one obvious, and far more dubious reason: financial incentives. Doctors often receive “consulting” payments for work with medical teams. One professor interviewed for the story explained: “If someone has been paying you or employing you, it is very difficult to blow the whistle. It offends our sense of loyalty.”
The article explains how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relies on product alerts by medical professionals to get dangerous products off the market. However, if doctor’s default position is not to report suspicions to the FDA, then real problems might develop, with harmful products affectings thousands of patients before real action is taken.
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