Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Increasing Price of Medical Journal Editors?

You're seen in the press these last few days that health care costs moderated last year, apparently under the influence of the recession, though they still grew at a faster clip than the rest of the economy.

But one health care cost may be rising--the cost of keeping a friendly journal editor in your back pocket. In orthopedics and spinal conditions, it may have reached the price of $20 million over a 7-year period. At least so says investigative reporter John Fauber in his continuing excellent series of reports in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:


Fauber introduces us to Dr. Thomas Zdeblick, an orthopedic surgeon on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin. He became editor-in-chief of the Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques in 2002. Since then he's been paid $20M in royalties by Medtronic, the huge medical device firm.

Fauber reports that while the journal contains an average of one article per issue on a Medtronic product, the vast majority being favorable, readers are not told that the editor receives any funds from Medtronic. Dr. Zdeblick was also a co-author of some of these articles, but in at least some cases, the financial relations between the authors and Medtronic were not listed, either.

Fauber mentions the reactions of several former journal editors who make clear that in a case like this, the usual way many suggest that we deal with conflict of interest--disclosure--is insufficient. When these vast sums are changing hands, they suggest, the individual ought not be editor of such a journal, period. From which point of view I find it very hard to dissent.


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