(Re)disclosing physician financial interests: rebuilding trust or making unreasonable burdens on physicians?
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- Sperling, D. Med Health Care and Philos (2017) 20: 179. doi:10.1007/s11019-017-9751-8
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Recent professional guidelines published by the General Medical Council instruct physicians in the UK to be honest and open in any financial agreements they have with their patients and third parties. These guidelines are in addition to a European policy addressing disclosure of physician financial interests in the industry. Similarly, In the US, a national open payments program as well as Federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act re-address the issue of disclosure of physician financial interests in America. These new professional and legal changes make us rethink the fiduciary duties of providers working under new organizational and financial schemes, specifically their clinical fidelity and their moral and professional obligations to act in the best interests of patients. The article describes the legal changes providing the background for such proposals and offers a prima facie ethical analysis of these evolving issues. It is argued that although disclosure of conflicting interest may increase trust it may not necessarily be beneficial to patients nor accord with their expectations and needs. Due to the extra burden associated with disclosure as well as its implications on the medical profession and the therapeutic relationship, it should be held that transparency of physician financial interest should not result in mandatory disclosure of such interest by physicians. It could lead, as some initiatives in Europe and the US already demonstrate, to voluntary or mandatory disclosure schemes carried out by the industry itself. Such schemes should be in addition to medical education and the address of the more general phenomenon of physician conflict of interest in ethical codes and ethical training of the parties involved.