GE has spent $1 million to build a Web site and run a conference that offers architectural, legal and financial advice to anyone mulling a new imaging center.
When Mark Grossman, the head of Jefferson Radiology, which owns seven imaging centers around Hartford, wanted to buy TV advertising from cbs' Hartford affiliate, GE roped its NBC station there into giving him a better deal. The station Web site also plugged his radiologists in its 'ask an expert' service. GE gave Grossman free market research to help him determine where to situate his next center. And at a GE-sponsored conference, Grossman learned how to use direct mail to get women to come in and get their varicose veins zapped away.
Grossman's practice, which already owns $10 million worth of GE machines, is negotiating to buy the mother of all MRIs, a 30,000-gauss magnet that would cost $2 million-plus if bought.
How many conflicts of interest can one spot in this one case? Let's see:
- A device company engineering a better price charged a physician to advertise his services that would incorporate use of the companies' products.
- The device company influencing news or public service program content on a television station owned by the same conglomerate of which the device company is a part.
- The device company providing the physician free market research to help him situate an office which would use the companies' products.
- The device company supporting a conference which provides tips to the physician about marketing his services that use the companies' products.
Note also that the second item involved stealth marketing disguised as news or public service television programming.
Again, here is one more anecdote suggesting conflicts of interest are pervasive in health care. Conflicts of interest can distort information available to patients and physicians, and provide financial incentives that risk distorting physicians' decision making.
Conflicts involving physicians and pharmaceutical companies are better known and receive more attention in the media and the medical and health care literature than other kinds of conflicts. Conflicts involving other organizations, e.g., medical device manufacturers, may turn out to be just as important.
Hat-tip to Matthew Herper at the Science Business blog.