Tuesday, December 21, 2010

KOLs, Background Checks, and Unintended Consequences

We look forward to the day when industry members will no longer have knee-jerk reactions to bad press – we just wish we had a reliable crystal ball to tell us when that will be.

Our bemusement stems from some members’ announcement that they now will conduct background checks on physicians – prior to their becoming consultants and speakers. This statement comes in the wake of ProPublica’s original story showing that some industry members hired physicians with tainted backgrounds. In the subsequent story, ProPublica only discusses the relatively serious infractions, like “prescribing unjustified or excessive medications and making serious medical errors.”

The industry members who made this announcement – AZ, Lilly, and Merck – did not provide lots of details on how these checks will be made, other than they plan to review state records. Nor did they discuss what kinds of infractions, if any, would be acceptable. One that comes to mind is failing to keep up with continuing medical education courses.

As we noted in a previous blog, the original ProPublica story found that of 17,700 thought leaders checked out, just 1.4%, or 250, were found to be tainted in some way. Of course, all industry members should have been looking at state and federal records from the get-go. This is something we encourage our clients to do as part of the normal contracting process.

A final thought: Will industry critics be happy with just a state and federal records check? Will they want something more intrusive? If so, we wonder if and how this will negatively impact the practice of medical research. We know this is the right thing to do, but what are the unintended consequences?  How will industry members change how they work with exceptionally influential KOLs?

Let us know what you think.

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