EDITORIAL - Doctors doing business

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Doctors doing business

A public health advocate first sounded the alarm recently, saying several doctors were prescribing medicines from a pharmaceutical company in exchange for expensive gifts including luxury vehicles.

The Department of Health has since issued a circular, warning that such doctors could face suspension or revocation of their license. The DOH circular “strictly reminds all doctors, nurses, medical professionals, and DOH personnel in all medical centers, hospitals, and medical facilities regulated by the DOH that the acceptance of gifts, grants, or emoluments from biopharmaceutical companies or members of the industry, in exchange for any act benefiting such company or member of the industry is unethical.”

Yesterday, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada delivered a privilege speech, naming the pharmaceutical company and doctors allegedly involved in the unethical practice, and calling for a Senate probe, in aid of legislation. The doctors themselves, Estrada said, own the local company Bell-Kenz Pharma Inc., whose products are prescribed instead of those of other companies. A quota is also allegedly given for the doctors to qualify for rebates of up to P2 million, luxury cars, trips and other expensive freebies.

Estrada said a group of cardiologists launched Bell-Kenz, and later recruited doctors specializing in other fields. The products include medicines for hypertension and diabetes, antibiotics and health supplements, Estrada said in his speech. Apparently enthusiasts of the “Star Wars” movie franchise, the founding members reportedly call themselves Jedis.

Whether Bell-Kenz products have a special Star Wars-like “force” or efficacy has yet to be determined. Health officials have warned that prescribing the company’s products instead of tested ones that have undergone proper vetting by relevant agencies could endanger public health care.

The doctors identified by Estrada in his speech have yet to comment on his statement that Bell-Kenz “shamelessly recruits doctors, enticing them with promises of exorbitant commissions and lavish incentives in exchange for prescribing their medicines – a blatant violation of their ethical principles, betrayal of trust bestowed upon them by their patients, and a flagrant disregard for the sacredness of their profession.”

Estrada wants legislation that will make unethical medical practices a criminal offense. He presented a detailed description of the operations of Bell-Kenz and its physician owners. Certain doctors themselves have expressed concern about the practices of those behind Bell-Kenz. Even before Congress passes relevant legislation, action is needed from agencies in charge of such practices, to ensure that public health is not compromised.

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