The Dangers of Sales Representatives in Main ORs

Skyler Simpkins ’23

Opinion Editor

I spent three summers of my high school volunteering in a local hospital’s main operating room in my hometown. I was eventually given the opportunity to watch an operation, but instead of being riveted by the surgical prowess demonstrated in the procedure, I was bewildered by the salesman promoting a surgical instrument to the surgeon in the operating room. Why was this allowed? The surgeon was using this new medical gauze being promoted to him during the procedure as if he was test driving a car. This is a person’s life on the table, and he is being treated like a car sale? 

Known as medical sales representatives, these people are commonplace in operating rooms all over America. I perceive a couple of ethical issues with this phenomenon: the distraction of the surgeons by the salesman and by the new technique, and the addition of another unnecessary individual in an operating room.

The sales representative is inherently distracting when he is constantly speaking and wandering around the operating room. During my personal experience, the sales representative almost passed out when smelling emission from cauterization. All of this can be a distraction for a professional whose job determines the life or death of their patients. When one is working in such a stressful environment, distractions should be limited and sales representatives only increase the chances for a surgeon’s mistake while distracted.

As I mentioned above, this surgeon I was observing was testing the new medical gauze being promoted to him by this sales representative. I explicitly remember the surgeon struggling with the gauze’s adhesion to the needed organ. Also, he struggled just getting the gauze to unravel when inside the patient’s body. All of this struck me with a worrying feeling about the implications of medical malpractice from sales representatives and the use of products under pressure for the first time. A surgeon should value the patient’s safety and well-being over the testing of new medical products. We should reprimand this behavior and place the patient’s medical treatment at the top of importance in an operating room. 

Lastly, what of the ethical implications for the inclusion of an unnecessary individual in an operating room? When an individual’s body is open on the table, the more people in a room raise the risk of disease transmission. Amidst a pandemic, this should be of top concern for any individual securing medical treatment and consequentially dealing with a weak body. 

What are the solutions to this problem? One, canceling this phenomenon altogether. This would negate all of the ethical issues mentioned above; however, it would not foster the testing of new, and possibly better, medical equipment. Because of this major advantage sales representatives in the operating rooms has, I believe we should leave the decision of whether to have a sales representative in the operating room to the surgeon and the patient — the surgeon so they can assume the risk of distraction, and the patient so we can ease the ethical issues implied by the inclusion of sales representatives in the operating room. When the patient provides their consent for this inclusion, they are assuming the risk involved in this inclusion. But why would any patient accept this implication if it questions their well-being in the operating room? I do believe most patients would deny the access of a sales representative, but the pitch given to the patient should not only ask for the inclusion of the sales representative but also the inclusion of a potentially better piece of medical equipment. If a patient realizes that with a sales representative comes a potentially better medical instrument, they would be much more willing to assume that risk. 

When we allow the patient and surgeon to have a say in what happens in their operating room, we ease the ethical issues that permeate many operating room situations. We should not sacrifice the safety of an individual for a chance at better equipment, without the consent of the individual. Healthcare has become a system driven by frugal executives, we need to replace the power of healthcare in the hands of the medical professionals and the individuals relying on healthcare for their wellbeing. The consent of the people is critical in any republican system, and it should be held in the same regard in our healthcare system and its institutions. 


Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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