Thursday, October 21, 2010

Financial Disclosures and Journal Authors: Enough Rhetoric

When President Obama signed the healthcare reform act into law, part of the legislation package included the Physicians Payment Sunshine Act. We’re all familiar with it. Sometime soon, Industry will have to make public its financial transactions with industry consultants.

So, why are the media still acting like every undisclosed transaction – especially ones that are years old -- between physician and industry is like an unheard-of immoral outrage? Case in point: the 2007 study showing that 25 of 32 consultants to medical device companies didn’t reveal their connections in published journal articles. Those connections were worth millions, the Times says.

A constant critic of the industry-thought leader connection was quoted as saying that the study was “one more indication of the widespread corruption of the medical profession by industry money.”

It’s not clear from the article how many journals were involved in the study. The study apparently doesn’t name individual doctors or their articles. Two journal editors were quoted, each saying that yes, they must get stricter on disclosures. We’re not sure how these journals are funded, but if those sources are medical device companies, it won’t be easy biting the hand that feeds them.

We support transparency – our blog readers know this.

We do not support incomplete journalistic reporting – a check on even some of these journals in 2008, 2009, and 2010 would have rounded out the story. What were their disclosure records then? Did disclosure improve, stay the same, get worse? Is there a basis for comparison? If this record check did happen, it’s not mentioned in the Times article.

The article quotes the study’s author as saying he didn’t “know how often the journals required disclosures in 2008, but he said the lack of results showed ‘a broken system’ regardless of who was to blame.”

Physicians have battled over the question of financial disclosure for years – this NEJM editorial is from 1993.

Again, the unintended consequences of this constant, where-is-this-getting-us criticism: The effect on physician education! Physicians need to be educated in the latest research, newest drugs, newest medical devices. Industry use to be a trusted source of that information. Could we tone down the rhetoric, and begin a conversation?  We have to figure out solutions that improve healthcare overall and continue to recognize the value of medical innovation.

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