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Conflict of Interest Checkup

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By Kristi Coale
WebMD Feature

April 10, 2000 (San Francisco) -- The long-standing relationship between doctors and drug companies is intended to serve mutual interests: Doctors need tested remedies with which to treat patients, and drug companies need a way to sell their tested remedies.

Meanwhile, the interests of the third party who actually pays for the drugs -- you, the patient -- are not well represented. Here are ways you can ensure your concerns will be addressed when you go to the doctor:

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1. Research your illness to see what types of drugs are used to treat it so that you can ask about alternative medications and even non-pharmaceutical remedies.

2. If your doctor prescribes a name-brand medication, ask whether generic versions are available. If your doctor voices reservations about generics, ask to be directed to research that discusses the drug and addresses these reservations.

3. Consider asking your doctor if he or she has any involvement with the company that makes the prescribed drug, particularly if you question the choice of medications. Keep in mind that some doctors direct clinical trials for drug companies. Others may accept research money from drug companies, serve as paid consultants, own stock in, or even sit on the boards of biotechnology and drug companies.

4. Be wary of drug samples. Free samples do serve as a quick and inexpensive way to allow patients to try a drug, but they also serve to introduce new, and perhaps more expensive, medications. Ask if equally effective treatments are already available.

Kristi Coale is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who specializes in science and medical issues. Her work has appeared in Salon,Wired, and The Nation.

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