Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Embarrassment for the AAFP--or Not

First background item: debate/scandal over the American Academy of Family Physician's sweetheart financial deal with Coca-Cola to fund "educational" materials for patients:

Second background item: recent Federal settlement with Allergan over off-label marketing of Botox:

Now comes Alan Blum, family physician, former editor of American Family Physician, and Professor and Director at the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, to inform me that the AAFP, virtually the same week that the Federal Allergan-Botox settlement was announced, sent out a mass mailing to its physician members called "Upper Limb Spasticity: Information for You and Your Patients." Now the first thing to notice about this, as Dr. Blum did, without any intention to minimize the suffering of any person with this condition, is that upper limb spasticity is not exactly near the top of anyone's list of common problems in primary care practice. (Nurse: "Doctor, can we work in Mrs. Jones this afternoon? She has a sore throat." Doctor: "Thank heavens! The last 20 patients I saw all had upper limb spasticity, and I was really getting bored silly.")

These mailings go out on a fairly regular basis and if you look at the fine print at the bottom of the cover letter you see that it's sponsored by a drug company--in this case Allergan, the maker of Botox. And when you read the supposed "educational" material, it's a thinly disguised infomercial for the drug. So when I get these mailings they usually head immediately to the circular file. Dr. Blum, fortunately, paid more attention, and noted the unfortunate coincidence between the timing of the mailing and the announcement of Allergan's legal difficulties.

You might imagine that the AAFP would be embarrassed by the timing. But the Coca-Cola debacle has demonstrated to many of us that sadly, "our" supposed "professional" organization is beyond embarrassment.

CORRECTION ADDED 10/14/10: I misread a part of Dr. Blum's e-mail. While he was editor of two other medical journals, he was never editor of American Family Physician. The reason is interesting. He was offered the editorship by the AAFP, which publishes the journal. But at the time, AAFP had some sort of deal with two tobacco companies, and the contract offered to Dr. Blum contained a clause that would prohibit him from speaking out publicly about the health effects of tobacco. So he turned down the job.

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