Oh, what a tangled web. Drugmakers, doctors, ghostwriters, academic researchers, medical schools, CME providers ... they're all linked together by industry money and influence. At least that's the view of 100 medical ethicists, researchers, professors, patient advocates, et al., who are asking the National Institutes of Health to fund studies about conflicts of interest and their effects on patient care. And these aren't fringe characters; some big-name individuals and institutions signed.
"There is growing evidence that each strand of this web is compromised by ethical lapses and financial conflicts of interest," states the group's letter to NIH chief Francis Collins. There's a growing backlash against the relationships themselves, justified or not. State legislators have banned gifts from drugmakers to doctors. Some medical schools have barred drug reps who don't have appointments; some have even stopped taking free drug samples. And last but not least, Congress has launched one probe after another, examining the financial ties that bind those who make the drugs to those who prescribe them.
Drugmakers have been scrambling to get ahead of the public opinion curve by voluntarily disclosing financial relationships with doctors, cutting off funding to private CME firms, and capping speaker fees and consulting payments to individual doctors. But the lapses continue to surface.
"To what extent have ghostwritten articles corrupted the medical and scientific literature?" the letter asks, going on to demand that NIH acknowledge that it just doesn't know if--or how much--financial relationships end up influencing actual medical decision making. And then, of course, address that gap in knowledge by launching some government-funded studies. The letter asks for a face-to-face meeting. We'll have to wait and see whether that comes to pass.