Physician Advocacy Brings Big Pharma into Line

by Guy M. Kezirian, MD, MBA, FACS

January 2016

A remarkable event unfolded on the physician social commerce site Shout MD site last week. It provides incontrovertible evidence that physician unity has great power and that an individual can effect great change—simply by speaking out. I have no doubt the individual responsible for this action will become a key opinion leader and will receive great benefits from her action. Here is the story:

A California dermatologist reported that she had been named in a lawsuit involving the pharmaceutical company, Merz, and a model whose image had allegedly been used on a brochure to market a Merz product. The brochure had been provided by Merz and allegedly the license to use the image had expired. Rather than limit the scope of the complaint to Merz, the plaintiff chose to include physicians who allegedly displayed the brochures as well.

To provide context for this story, I want to tell you about Shout MD. Shout MD is an online social commerce site which boasts a global community of board-certified specialty physicians. Over 11,000 physicians participate and contribute content to the site, drawing from ophthalmology, dermatology, plastic surgery, orthopedics, cosmetic dentistry, cardiology, etc. The company that owns Shout MD (Strathspey Crown, LLC) is a physician-based private equity firm out of Newport Beach, CA. By way of disclosure, I am an investor in Strathspey Crown. Shout MD is free to join and is open to specialty physicians.

The dermatologist reported on Shout MD that Merz refused to indemnify and defend the doctors; therefore, each doctor was forced to pay for his or her own defense to the Merz lawsuit. Of course, each of the doctors was blameless and innocent, and was only included because they allegedly purchased the Merz product in question. Many doctors on Shout MD responded that this sounded wrong, and suggested that doctors not take this lying down.

The response of the Shout MD community was vigorous:

• The Shout MD community said that this was not fair and that pressure should be put on Merz to stand up for the innocent doctors. There was complete support.
• The Chairman of Strathspey Crown LLC, Robert Grant, offered to contact Merz and also to provide legal assistance to Shout MD physicians, which he did.
• Strathspey Crown’s legal team, led by top attorney Todd Theodora, intervened and, through his independent law firm, represented a group physicians both individually and collectively.
• To make a long story short, Merz turned 180 degrees once it became clear that the physicians were moving and acting as a united group.
• Merz completely changed its tune and agreed to provide complete indemnity and legal defense for all doctors.

This all happened within about 2 weeks. The exchanges between Robert Grant and the Merz VP for the US, Jim Hartman, were collegial. It was not necessary to be belligerent – the power of 11,000 physicians coming together was more than enough.

This is a remarkable development and I think it marks a tipping point in the balance of power in medicine. Nearly every dollar in medicine is generated at the tip of a pen or the tip of a knife of a physician. We may be motivated by higher purpose but the industry around us is all about the money. By uniting together, we can use our economic power very effectively.

Congratulations to the first dermatologist who spoke up on her courageous stance and to the Shout MD community for their unequivocal support of our colleague. Thanks to Robert Grant and Todd Theodora for their decisive intervention. Kudos to Merz for doing the right thing in the end.

Most of all, hooray for Shout MD and for physicians. There is no doubt that Shout MD was the catalyst for bringing about this just result. Physicians are starting to unite. The future of medicine – for us and our patients – is suddenly much brighter.

Lastly, this compelling story underscores one thing: all of us should be on Shout MD. It could be the single best thing we can do for our profession as a whole. It is an important meeting ground for everyone who wants to preserve the future of private practice medicine.