Ethical Codes Bolster an Industry’s Public Perception

Posted by Matt Wetzel on June 8, 2017

Note: this blog post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on February 14, 2017.

A commitment to the core values of patient care and innovation serves as medtech’s heartbeat.  The people who work in the medtech industry are committed to delivering high-quality care and good patient outcomes every day. They understand that what they do has a direct and positive impact on patients’ lives. They understand that their work contributes to the development of breakthrough technology. And they understand that the products they make could one day be used to save or improve the life of a loved one.  

Another core value of the medical device industry is doing business ethically.  Indeed, the industry has a deep and longstanding commitment to ethical principles and to doing business fairly and justly. 

Isolated allegations of wrongdoing, however, can unjustly distort the public’s perception of the industry: 

  • Government allegations of limited instances of wrongdoing are extrapolated and attributed by the public to an entire industry and its current practices – even though government allegations tend to focus on past behavior by isolated actors in an isolated geography at an isolated company.
  • Company decisions to settle government enforcement actions and to pay fines are viewed incorrectly by the public as admissions of guilt – even though a company may have made a reasonable decision to pay a fine and avoid years or protracted government prosecution, especially given the government’s shift away from traditional prosecutorial principles of proportionality and fairness towards prosecution if the return on investment for the government looks positive, bolstered by overly aggressive prosecutorial tactics. 
  • Plaintiffs' attorneys, seeking to capitalize on fear, spray the television waves with a barrage of advertisements that create an inaccurate, unfair, and unfounded public perception about the industry’s products.  (The inequities here are compounded given that companies are frequently prohibited from defending themselves in the resulting tort cases.  Courts refuse to allow the introduction of evidence that products have been cleared by the government as safe and effective for use!  But, this is a topic for another article.)
  • Allegations against different industries (for example, pharmaceuticals) can be inappropriately attributed to medical devices. 
  • Even bad acts by physicians and other health care providers can be seen as an industry issue.  For example, inappropriate physician-owned distributors (PODs) raise critical ethical and legal issues, economic concerns, and most importantly, run the risk of patient harm.  These allegations are attributed to medical device makers, even though the industry has long fought to raise awareness about the ethical and legal consequences of doing business with PODs. See here for more information on PODs and the potential legal, ethical, and patient harm issues they raise.

How, then, can an industry shift the tides and reaffirm an accurate, positive public image?  Focus on codes of ethics. 

The medtech industry has devoted years and millions of dollars of resources to develop codes of ethics around the world that guide and shape how companies can do business.  These voluntary principles form not only the basis for compliance in the industry but also serve to shape company cultures and focus industry participants on doing the right thing.  From the longstanding and foundational AdvaMed Code of Ethics in the United States, to the recently launched AdvaMed Code of Ethics in China, this commitment to establishing guidelines that drive ethical and compliant behavior are at the heart of the industry.  These codes have driven other industries to develop similar principles for doing business, and they send a message to the public that medical device companies are committed not just to doing business but to doing good business. 

Isolated issues like those identified above may sometimes touch our industry.  But, if we continue to hold ethical business at the core of our values, we can continue to stand confidently behind the patient care and innovative approaches to medicine that result from our work.  We strive to do what’s right.  We strive to focus our efforts on innovation and patient care.  And we strive to keep our eyes focused squarely on how to improve business relationships without breaching ethical requirements. 

Topics: Medical Technology

Written by Matt Wetzel

Vice President & Assistant General Counsel at AdvaMed
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