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Sale of Health-Related Goods from Physicians' Offices

The WSMA has established the following guidelines regarding the sale of health related goods from a physicians' office: "Health-related products" are any products that, according to the manufacturer or distributor, benefit health. "Selling" refers to the activity of dispensing items that are provided from the physician's office in exchange for money and also includes the activity of endorsing a product that the patient may order or purchase elsewhere that results in direct remuneration for the physician.

The primary obligation of physicians is to serve the interests of their patients. In-office sale of health-related products by physicians may present a conflict of interest, could risk placing undue pressure on the patient, and could erode patient trust. When these items offer some health-related benefits, the physician's influence over the sale is amplified and makes it even more necessary for physicians to be cognizant of their special relationship with their patients.

Physicians who do sell health-related products from their offices should not sell any health-related goods whose claims lack scientific validity. Physicians should rely on peer-reviewed literature and other unbiased sources that review evidence in a sound, systematic fashion when judging the efficacy of the product.

Physicians who sell health-related products from their offices should follow these guidelines to limit their conflicts of interest, minimize the risk of brand endorsement, and ensure a focus on benefits to patients.

  1. Physicians may distribute health-related products to their patients in order to make useful products readily available to those patients who may benefit from the use of such products. Recommendations to use a product must be made in the patient's best interest, not solely to supplement the physician's income.
  2. Physicians must disclose fully the nature of their financial arrangement with a manufacturer or supplier to sell health-related products. Disclosure includes informing patients of financial interests as well as about the availability of the product or other equivalent products elsewhere. Disclosure can be accomplished through face-to-face communication or by posting an easily understood written notification in a prominent location that is accessible by all patients in the office. In addition, physicians should, upon request, provide patients with understandable literature that relies on scientific standards in addressing the validity of the health-related goods.

(JC Rpt B, A-99) (Reaffirmed A-17)

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Abbreviations for House of Delegates report origination:

EC – Executive Committee; BT – Board of Trustees; CPA – Council on Professional Affairs; JC – Judicial Council; CHS – Community and Health Services

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