Drug Companies Influence Doctors Diagnoses

June 30, 2005 report from the Seattle Times reports that a large portion of doctors diagnoses may well be influenced by large drug companies looking to improve their bottom line. The expose, authored by Susan Kelleher and Duff Wilson points out that many of the criteria used for making a diagnosis have been changed in order to classify more healthy people as sick, and therefore sell more medication.

The article notes that researchers at Dartmouth Medical School estimate that during the 1990s, tens of millions more Americans were classified as having hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity simply because the definitions of those diseases were changed. The Seattle Times article uncovered that the experts writing the treatment guidelines that for a broad spectrum of diseases had drug-company ties ranging from research contracts to consultancies to stock ownership.

The result of this drug industry promoted disease reclassification is that tens of millions more Americans were classified as having hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity during the 1990s, simply because the definitions of those diseases were changed. The net results are huge increases in sales of prescription drugs, overall soaring health-care costs, escalating patient anxiety, as well as millions of people taking drugs that may carry a greater health risk than the underlying condition they were prescribed for.

The article notes that currently, due to the expanded diagnosis parameters, three out of four Americans technically have at least one of the commonly medicated diseases. But millions of them are not truly sick and may never be, even without medication. Dr. John Kitzhaber of The Foundation for Medical Excellence in Portland, who was also Oregon's governor from 1995 to 2003 stated, "We have a system that nobody but Big Pharma is happy with."

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a Dartmouth medical professor and editor of Effective Clinical Practice, a journal of the American College of Physicians, voiced his concern that more healthy people are being classified as sick only to increase drug sales. He commented, "You can't tell me that three-quarters of my population is sick before I start. That just doesn't pass the laugh test." Welch continued, "Our business is in a hard place right now. A lot of docs know it's not right."