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Unethical Business Practices in U.S. Health Care Alarm Physician Leaders


TAMPA, FL, March 8, 2005 -- Physician leaders in hospitals, large group practices and academic health centers are deeply concerned about ethical violations and unethical business practices impacting U.S. health care, according to results of a newly-published survey.

Conducted by the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE), the survey found high percentages of physician leaders are either “very concerned” or “moderately concerned” about:

- Physicians refusing to accept calls on patients who don’t have insurance (79%)

- Influence exerted by medical device manufacturers (79%)

- Over-treating patients to boost income (78%)

- Influence by pharmaceutical companies (76%)

- Board members with conflicts of interest (66%)

- Non-physician executive leaders with conflicts of interest (66%)

One of the most startling findings: nearly 54 percent of the survey respondents said there was a health care organization in their community that they believed to be involved in unethical business practices.

The survey findings and companion articles that look at ways to avoid ethical conflicts in health care are published in a special report, “Ethical Debates/Ethical Breaches,” which appears in the March/April issue of The Physician Executive - Journal of Medical Management.

“The survey results show us a serious problem facing U.S. health care,” ACPE President Marvin O. Kolb, MD, said. “Our challenge at ACPE and other professional organizations is to teach health care leaders how to identify and eliminate unethical business practices and behaviors.”

Nearly 1,500 physician leaders across the U.S. participated in the survey. About 10 percent were CEOs or the equivalent; 29 percent, senior executives; 18 percent, medical directors of hospitals or group practices; 25 percent, department chairs; and 19 percent, practicing physicians or consultants.

“In general, physicians compartmentalize these [ethical] issues well and have the best interest of patients as their first priority,” one survey participant wrote in the survey’s comment box. “When that does not occur for any reason, I am deeply concerned.”

Summarized another survey respondent, “The secondhand smoke-like effects of unethical business practices can cause ethical cancers to develop throughout health care.”

For a summary of the survey results and copies of the related articles, contact Bill Steiger at or 800-562-8088.

ACPE experts available for interviews about ethical business practices in health care:

Laurence McCullough, PhD, is a professor of medicine and medical ethics and associate director for education in the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas. He currently teaches the ACPE course “Ethical Challenges of Physician Executives.”
713-798-3505 or

Donald Hofreuter, MD, is CEO of Wheeling Hospital, Wheeling, W.Va. Dr. Hofreuter is an experienced physician leader and author of “The Higher Ground,” which addresses ethical issues in health care.
304-243-3263 or

ACPE is the nation’s largest health care organization for physician executives - doctors who hold leadership and management positions.


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