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Cardiobrief: Medtronic uses embargo as a "public relations tool"

On his Cardiobrief blog, Larry Husten gives an insider’s view of the kind of promotional shenanigans some in the health care industry will use to manage news coverage of their research.

You should read the whole piece, but to wet your whistle, here’s an excerpt:

“Listening to a PR pitch- err, “pre-briefing”- shouldn’t be a prerequisite for receiving embargoed materials. Access to the content shouldn’t depend on a willingness to submit to the spin cycle. I’ve never seen access to content linked so explicitly to a PR pitch. This strikes me as a very dangerous- and telling- precedent.

I want to raise one other troubling question: what is the role of the clinical investigator who agrees to take part in these interviews? There’s something quite unseemly about a PR person offering to arrange interviews with academics, and even worse the investigator who agrees to participate on terms dictated by the company.

It should be known that this is an extremely common occurrence. Nearly every day I receive a PR solicitation offering an interview with a clinical investigator or expert. I am nearly always uncertain about the precise nature of the relationship between the investigator and the company. Often, of course, the company pays for the clinical trial. But do the investigators get paid to do these PR briefings? If not, what about expenses? (I’ve heard rumors in the past about investigators who don’t accept honorariums but will accept very expensive first class flights and accomodations all over the world. And we’ve all seen the limousines lined up in front of the hotels during the big conventions.)”

Kudos to Husten for taking the time to shine a light on this practice.

The public has no idea how conflicted are many of the health care messages they receive.

More journalists should more often follow Husten’s example and tell the stories of the spin doctors at play.

On our HealthNewsReview.org site, we offer a reminder to journalists of some of the pitfalls of reporting on news from scientific meetings. But that little primer barely scratches the surface of what veteran health/medical/science journalists like Husten see all the time in the trenches of these big conventions and their exhibit halls.

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