Tag Archives: Conflicts of interest

Medical research coverage often contains too few independent, conflict-free comments

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Global Panorama via Flickr

Photo: Global Panorama via Flickr

Just one in every six new stories about medical research contained independent comments from someone besides the study authors — and a quarter of them did not have the relevant clinical or academic expertise to be commenting on the research. Further, just over half of those commenters had relevant conflicts of interest, but only half were reported in the news article. Those are the findings of a sobering, though unsurprising, new study that reveals just how much news consumers suffer from a dearth of high-quality reporting on medical research.

In plainer terms, health journalists need to be doing a better job when reporting on medical research. Continue reading

Researchers ‘owe’ the public information about financial ties #ahcj14

Blythe Bernhard

About Blythe Bernhard

Blythe Bernhard reports on health and medicine for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and serves on AHCJ's Right to Know and Contest committees. She attended Health Journalism 2014 as an AHCJ-Missouri Health Journalism fellow, a program supported by the Missouri Foundation for Health.

When writing about medical studies, reporters should always ask researchers about any financial relationships with drug companies or device manufacturers. That was one of the main lessons from a panel on conflicts of interest on Saturday at Health Journalism 2014.

Starting in September, sunshine provisions in the Affordable Care Act will require drug companies to disclose most payments to doctors. Some companies have already started to publicize their financial relationships with doctors. But most medical journal articles do not give accurate information on researchers’ potential conflicts of interest, said panelist Susan Chimonas of the Institute of Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University.

“You shouldn’t be uncomfortable asking these questions,” Chimonas said. “They owe you this information. They owe everyone this information.” Continue reading

Reporter looks at why, how clinic banned drug reps and their samples

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Markian Hawryluk

Markian Hawryluk

Six years ago, a clinic in Oregon made the decision to ban representatives from the pharmaceutical companies. The doctors and staff say goodbye to free samples of expensive drugs, lavish lunches, pens, notebooks, mugs, toys for children and other “benefits.”

Markian Hawryluk, a health reporter with The Bend (Ore.) Bulletin, picked up on a recent journal article about the transformation and used that as his inspiration to write about how the clinic made its decision and how it changed the way doctors there practice medicine, as well as how the move impacted the community.

As data is collected under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a part of the Affordable Care Act that will require pharmaceutical companies to disclose the money and gifts given to physicians, reporters may start noting similar changes in their area.

Read more about how Hawryluk reported the story and what he learned about the influence drug reps and samples have on prescribing.

Journalists taken aback by AP’s tweets about pharmaceutical company

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Journalists on Twitter were surprised, even dismayed, on Tuesday when tweets from The Associated Press prompted followers to “Visit AstraZeneca’s YouTube channel.”

I asked Paul Colford, AP’s director of media relations, about the “Sponsored Tweets.” His response to me – and several others who had questions – is that this is nothing new and other news outlets are doing it, too.

The Associated Press began using “Sponsored Tweets” in January in conjunction with the International CES (consumer electronics show). The press release announcing the “innovative advertising” says the tweets would be provided by the advertiser and handled by staff outside the AP newsroom:

The AP developed internal guidelines in recent months so that it may build new business models in the new media landscape without compromising its newsroom values and principles.

A more in-depth piece on the Muck Rack blog about the venture provides further insight into why the AP is using them and how they are generated. In the post, Ken Detlet, the AP’s vice president of digital advertising, said “It’s a useful tool, when used tactfully, to promote meaningful content.”

We’ve gathered a sampling of reactions from journalists and we’re interested in hearing from our readers. Is labeling them as “Sponsored Tweets” enough? Do you think this will become more prevalent? What would be your reaction to seeing such tweets in your stream? Did you know that AP and other news organizations are including advertising in their tweets? Use the comment section to share your thoughts.

Saerom Yoo, a reporter at The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore.:

Blythe Bernhard, a health and medical reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Will Yong, an associate producer with Al Jazeera’s “Listening Post:”

Annie Lowrey, an economic policy reporter for The New York Times:

Jane McManus, a sportswriter with ESPNNewYork.com and ESPNW:

Ben Popken, a writer and editor with NBC News:

When disease charities partner with drug companies, where does that leave patients (and reporters)?

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

A few weeks ago, I reached out to a disease charity for comment on a story I was working on. Disease charities are nonprofits like the American Heart Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, etc., that raise money to support the research, care and awareness of people who live with a given condition.

The story was about a rare but very dangerous side effect that was tied to new drug. The side effect is considered so serious that other drugs that cause it have been yanked off the market because of the risk.

I expected the scientific officer I spoke with to react to this news, which was published in a top-tier medical journal, with alarm and concern for patients who were taking the medication, which is poised to become a blockbuster. Instead, though, he was largely dismissive of the reports. He extolled the potential benefits of the newly approved medication for patients.

As reporters, we all have those moments when our spider senses tingle. You may not be able to put your finger on exactly why, but something just doesn’t feel right. Continue reading