Thursday, May 5, 2011

New from ProPublica: Medical Specialty Societies On the Take

A lot of news this past week or so, and I am writing this from an otherwise very lovely hotel in downtown Krakow, Poland that suffers from an agonizingly slow Internet connection; so many updates will have to await my return stateside. However I did want to circulate the link to the new ProPublica investigative reporting piece:

Briefly, the Heart Rhythm Society annual convention is used as a poster child for the incredible amount of industry cash that flows into the coffers of medical specialty societies, and how inadequate are the present reporting structures to find out about this. And of course the specialty societies insist that none of their behavior is in any way influenced by their dependence on industry cash--which they frankly admit they could not figure out a way to do without.

The degree of either naivete or rationalization among the leadership of these organizations is well represented in a statement by Dr. Jack Lewin, CEO of the American College of Cardiology: “I don’t buy a soft drink just because of the advertising… I buy it because I like it.” Just think about this for a minute. The beverage companies, which last time I heard are making tidy profits, have at their beck and call all sorts of sociological and psychological expertise as to what sort of advertising works and what doesn't. Based on that expertise they have chosen to spend millions on advertising. They are obviously betting that the normally constructed human will be influenced by those ads. What arrogance makes the leader of a physician group--and how a gang that is the most blatant docs' union defending above all else its members' high levels of income, could presume to call itself a "college," needs some explaining--imagine that he's so far superior to the rank and file of humanity so as not to be influenced?

The other new (to me) feature of this report is the "tag and release" program as wags have dubbed it. This refers to the industry's ability to purchase the privilege of having tracking devices implanted in the conference badges of attendees, allowing them to exactly track the person's progress through the exhibit hall and meeting, to see just where people go and what booths they visit. (I assume somebody is interested in how often they go to the rest room and exactly what they do there. Don't worry, there's industry advertising posted in the restroom stalls too.)

The take home message here is how these organizations sell their own membershjip to industry as a way to add to their funding potential. I have a request for all medical specialists who read this blog--before you attend a major meeting of your organization, be sure to go on the website that the organization hopes you will not visit, the part aimed at exhibitors, and see how you yourself is being marketed to the drug and device companies as advertising fodder, whose behavior your society more or less promises to deliver over to the industry if only they invest enough funds in supporting the meeting. (And then again these groups have the nerve to call themselves professional societies.) If after that you still can stomach attending the meeting, have a good time and enjoy all the industry freebies.

The other take home messages have to do with first, the continued lack of transparency among these organizations as to how much they take and from whom (the Heart Rhythm Society got targeted, ironically, because they actually became recently more transparent than most others); and second, the almost universal protestation among any would-be reformers among these organizations that the whole problem can easily be solved merely by disclosing all conflicts of interest. (We'll keep on raking in the cash, but we'll just inform you better about it.)

1 comment:

james said...

That is very good writing, very informative. thanks