Conflicts of interest in the health sector continue to offer rich pickings for journalistic and academic inquiry. Following is a wrap of some recent COI news that I’ve been collecting over the past several weeks.
• Medical schools get an F on ghostwriting policies
This study looked at 50 academic medical centres in the US and whether they had policies on ghostwriting. Only about one quarter (13) had policies that ban ghostwriting. By allowing ghostwriting, the authors say academic medical centers “enable the pharmaceutical industry to covertly shape the medical literature in favor of commercial interests. When a pharmaceutical salesperson hands a clinician an article reprint, the name of the institution on the front page of the reprint serves as a stamp of approval. The article is not viewed as an advertisement, but as scientific research; the reprint is an effective marketing tool because peer-reviewed journal articles generated in academia are perceived to be the result of unbiased scientific inquiry.”
Wonder if any similar research has been done in Oz? I’d bet my breakfast that our medical schools would fare no better, but would be happy to be proven wrong.
• Crack down on pharma payments to dox in the US
This Wall Street Journal piece says some high-profile Boston hospitals are banning doctors from being paid by drug companies to give speeches. The article links to a Boston Globe report which details how one doctor earnt almost $US100,000 in three months for giving such talks. Meanwhile, this piece in the BMJ (pay for full access) and this blog report how Harvard University is tightening regulations for doctos and and scientists who consult for drug companies and medical device makers.
• Journal editor faces major COI issues
This report investigates a University of Wisconsin orthopedic surgeon who has been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques for seven years. During that time, he’s received more than $20 million in patent royalties thanks to spinal implants sold by Medtronic. Also during that time, an average of more than one Medtronic-related article appeared in each issue of the journal, most of them positive. Some were even co-authored by the editor/surgeon himself and related to the implant for which he gets royalties. Despite these coincidences, the journal never disclosed the potential conflict of interest.
• Why COIs matter
In this article (which has made an international media splash in the past few days), Simon Chapman and Ross MacKenzie examine: “The Global Research Neglect of Unassisted Smoking Cessation: Causes and Consequences”. They make a strong case that the whole field of smoking cessation research and intervention has been biased in favour of pharma treatments. Yet, they say, research shows that two-thirds to three-quarters of ex-smokers stop unaided.
• Pharma at the movies
This article details how a pharma company with an interest in obesity products is funding a documentary on obesity.
• The complexities of COI
This article in The Australian from a month ago deserved much greater prominence and follow-up than it received. Maybe it got lost in the silly season. It details a report, based on interviews with former commonwealth and state health ministers, treasurers and health administrators, which reportedly found that the Department of Health and Ageing is riven with conflicts of interests and should be split, retaining its core function of specialist policy advice while a separate department would deliver services such as Medicare and aged care. It’s a reminder that COIs can be so much more subtle than the obvious commercial ties, and can be created through bureaucratic processes and structures.
• Transparency in the public sector
A blog by Russ Linden, a management educator and author who specialises in organisational change methods in the public sector. I don’t think he was intending to write specifically about COIs but his points about both the benefits and challenges of transparency seem pertinent, and not only for the public sector.
• Croakey and COI
If you haven’t seen it already, the Croakey COI statement, which details the blog’s new funding arrangements, has been updated.