July 7, 2022

Doctors slow to blow whistle

A lawsuit against the medical products giant Johnson & Johnson has raised questions about doctors’ willingness to warn colleagues and patients about bad drugs or devices.

A lawsuit against the medical products giant Johnson & Johnson has raised questions about doctors’ willingness to warn colleagues and patients about bad drugs or devices. According to the New York Times, memos brought as evidence in the first of 10,000 lawsuits over a faulty hip replacement show that doctors were very reluctant to be whistleblowers.

“Questioning the status quo in medicine is not easy,” Dr Harlan Krumholz, of Yale School of Medicine, told the NYT. Doctors also shy away from the work of reporting errors and failures. “The Food and Drug Administration relies on physicians to help monitor product safety by alerting the agency to adverse patient reactions, doctors usually do not make such filings, saying they are too busy for the paperwork,” says the NYT.

Financial ties also influence doctors.  “If someone has been paying you or employing you, it is very difficult to blow the whistle,” said Professor George Loewenstein, of Carnegie-Mellon University. “It offends our sense of loyalty.”

The traditional avenue for voicing concerns is publication in academic journals. But these are often published long after the damage has been done. Some doctor-consultants to Johnson & Johnson published critical studies – but these appeared after the device had already been recalled. 

Michael Cook
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