Wisdom of the crowds erupts against Slate piece on industry-supported medical education

Why Big Pharma should buy your doctor lunch sometimes” is the headline of an article on Slate.com that has upset many readers. I’m not terribly upset about it because it just seems too naive and misinformed to get upset about. The final line of the piece tells you all you need to know about the tone of the column:

“Ousting commercial support is creating a huge chasm in medical education, leaving doctors not only hungry but also starved for knowledge.”

Some of the online comments posted in reaction to the piece:

• “This columnist is dangerously misinformed.”
• “misleading”
• “this article really dropped the ball on any sort of reasonable defense.”
• “Whoever wrote this must be a paid shill for the drug companies.”
• “I wonder how many pharma paid lunches the author has had?”
• “This post has a naivete to it that is almost breathtaking.”
• ‘The manufacturer of Remicade has a huge financial incentive to advocate long-term use of Remicade, yet the author of this article doesn’t see the inherent conflict of interest.”
• (Physician:) “My experience has been that aside from providing info on new meds, what many salesmen (and a high percentage of stunningly attractive saleswomen) do is trash the competition’s drug in an effort to get you to write for their own product. A lot of “new” meds being pushed are not really new but merely re-formulations or new combinations of old drugs designed to extend a soon-to-expire patent.”
• “This article is both one-sided and under-researched.”
• “I’m a bit disappointed about the one-sidedness of this article. First, I have to admit my biases. I am a physician who used to work in an academic medical center. While I was there, I wrote the policy banning pharmaceutical reps from bringing food and gifts to the medical residents, as well as tightening financial disclosure requirements for the faculty.”

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Anne Marie Cunningham

July 6, 2010 at 11:38 am

Thanks for drawing my attention to this. I missed it but agree with sentiments of comments quoted.

Gregory D. Pawelski

July 6, 2010 at 11:43 am

The online comment about the policy banning pharmaceutical reps from bringing food and gifts to the medical residents, immediately springs into my mind about the day, while I was leaving the cardiologist’s office to retrieve my car to transport my handicapped 95-year-old mother home, I observed a mild raucous in the parking lot. It was four or five pharma reps, each with pizza boxes in their arms, making a dash for the doctor’s office, during the lunch time hour. A sight to behold! Implanted in my mind forever!


July 7, 2010 at 8:30 am

I like commenter Ben’s observation:

The main example used in this article seems totally ridiculous. Some pharmaceutical company rammed Remicade through the FDA for some use that doesn’t work, then they send out reps to train doctors to use it in the ‘real’, unregulated/unapproved way. This was done to get the drug to the patients faster! (Uh… maybe all drugs could ‘get to the patient faster’ if all companies did sneaky things to sidestep FDA regulation, but seems like maybe that’s not the best approach?)
So basically, the pro (90% of the article) of this approach is, it allows Big Pharma to sidestep FDA oversight. The con is, it results in an obvious conflict of interests. (Wait, what is the upside again?)