Viewpoint: The Elephant in Medical Professionalism’s Kitchen


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Abstract

The rise of the corporation within health care during the 1980s and early 1990s was met by organized medicine with a deluge of editorials, articles, and books that identified a singular enemy—commercialism—and depicted it as corrosive of, and antithetical to, medical professionalism. Medicine’s ire proved prognostic as scores of highly publicized corporate-medical scandals began to crater the landscape of a rapidly emerging “medical marketplace.”Medicine’s main weapon in this counteroffensive was a renewed call to medical professionalism. Numerous organizations hosted conferences and underwrote initiatives to define, measure, and ultimately inculcate professionalism as a core medical competency. Nonetheless, an examination of medicine’s overall response to the threat of commercialism reveals inconsistencies and schisms between these praiseworthy efforts and a parallel absence of action at the community practitioner and peer-review levels.The most recent salvo in this war on commercialism is a policy proposal by influential medical leaders who call for an end to the market incentives linking academic health centers and medical schools with industry. These forthright proposals nevertheless appear once again not to address the heartbeat of professional social control: community-based peer review, including a vigorous and proactive role by state medical boards.The author concludes by examining the implications of a professionalism bereft of peer review and explores the societal-level responsibilities of organized medicine to protect, nurture, and expand the role of the physician to maintain the values and ideals of professionalism against the countervailing social forces of the free market and bureaucracy.

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