Medical conflict of interest issues in newspapers large and small today

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I’ve told my students that covering health care conflicts of interest could be a fulltime beat – and you still wouldn’t keep up.

The NY Times today reports:

In the first half of this year, the drug giant Eli Lilly paid 3,971 doctors and other medical professionals an average of about $11,230 each. The payments were for participating in an average of 12 speaking or consulting engagements during those six months, according to a company spokeswoman.

Dr. Manoj V. Waikar, for example, a physician among the top five earners this year, received $74,850 for consulting and speaking at 51 events, according to Lilly’s on-line faculty registry. The company caps payments at $75,000 for each health care provider in any calendar year.

He’s an adjunct instructor at Stanford. Stanford’s ban on regular faculty members participating in drug company speakers’ bureaus doesn’t apply to adjuncts – as long as they’re not using the Stanford name.

As blogger Merrill Goozner writes:

Waikar gave 51 talks last year to earn that $75,000. That’s one a week, week after week, all year at $1,500 a pop. Think about it. Same slides, same talk. Just show up for two hours and the check is in the mail. Do that for three companies and you’re earning over $200,000 annually. And you were wondering how the man earns a living on an adjunct faculty’s salary.

Meantime, it doesn’t take the NY Times to dig into conflict of interest issues. A student journalist with the Minnesota Daily points out how medical students receive free textbooks from drug companies promoting their products. Case in point: an otolaryngology text given out by a company making an ear infection drug – with the company’s logo on it, and with the beginning of each chapter crediting the drug company.

The student journalist also pointed out that the University of Minnesota has no policy to ban such practices.

It’s good that this student journalist starts looking at conflict of interest issues now. If she stays on this beat, she’s going to be busy on COI stories for a long time.

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Emma C

November 4, 2009 at 9:52 am

New internship, slowly learning that, quite sadly, COI exists beyond the health spectrum in higher ed. Hopefully will get time to help another reporter on this topic.
Any news #UMN med school COI? It took 2 of us last year to stay abreast of all that last year.

Ivan Oransky

November 4, 2009 at 12:49 pm

The U of M student journalist might be interested to know that a former student journalist named Joshua Sharfstein — the name will be familiar because he is now principal deputy commissioner of the FDA — took up the pharma-sponsored textbooks as a Harvard Med student in the early 1990s:
Ivan Oransky, MD
Executive Editor
Reuters Health