Context Despite expanding research on the prevalence and consequences of conflicts of interest in medicine, little attention has been given to the psychological processes that enable physicians to rationalize the acceptance of gifts.
Objective To determine whether reminding resident physicians of the sacrifices made to obtain training, as well as suggesting this as a potential rationalization, increases self-stated willingness to accept gifts from industry.
Design, Setting, and Participants Three hundred one US resident physicians from 2 sample populations (pediatrics and family medicine) recruited during March-July 2009 participated in a survey presented as evaluating quality of life and values.
Intervention Physicians were randomized to one of three different online surveys. The sacrifice-reminders survey (n=120) asked questions about sacrifices made in medical training, followed by questions regarding the acceptability of receiving gifts from industry. The suggested-rationalization survey (n=121) presented the same sacrifice questions, followed by a suggested possible rationalization (based on sacrifices made in medical training) for acceptance of gifts, before the questions regarding the acceptability of gifts. The control survey (n=60) asked about the acceptability of gifts without first asking questions about sacrifices or suggesting a rationalization.
Main Outcome Measures Physician self-stated acceptability of receiving gifts from industry.
Results Reminding physicians of sacrifices made in obtaining their education resulted in gifts being evaluated as more acceptable: 21.7% (13/60) in the control group vs 47.5% (57/120) in the sacrifice-reminders group (odds ratio, 1.81; 95% confidence interval, 1.27 - 2.58; P=.001). Although most residents disagreed with the suggested rationalization, exposure to it further increased the perceived acceptability of gifts to 60.3% (73/121) in this group (odds ratio relative to sacrifice reminders group, 1.45; 95% confidence interval, 1.22 - 1.72; P< .001).
Conclusions Providing resident physicians with reminders of sacrifices increased the perceived acceptability of industry-sponsored gifts. Including a rationalization statement further increased gift acceptability.