Tag Archives: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

J-S settles records suit; docs rebel against COI rules

As a result of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s now-settled lawsuit against the University of Wisconsin, John Fauber was able to review newly public e-mails which show just how angry a segment of the faculty became when faced with the university’s new, stricter conflict of interest regulations. The regulations came, of course, in the wake of Fauber’s investigative reporting on the subject.

The newspaper’s lawsuit argued that the faculty comments were public records under Wisconsin law and sought a court order to obtain them. To settle the lawsuit, the newspaper agreed to accept the 41 e-mails with the names of the doctors blacked out. The foundation also provided a separate list with the names of the 28 doctors who wrote the e-mails.

The (UW Medical Foundation) also agreed to pay the newspaper’s attorneys’ fees of about $12,400.

The e-mails make for good reading, and Fauber wastes no time in deploying the liveliest phrases in his story.

For example, some physicians complained about the 18-month exemption for orthopedic surgeons and other implanters of medical devices, including one who said “Allowing our docs to shill for device companies is a complete perversion.” An orthopedic surgeon responded with a different take, saying it was “clearly ridiculous” to limit his hourly take from device makers to just $500.

For an explanation from Fauber on how he has been able to consistently produce groundbreaking stories on the conflict-of-interest beat, see the article he wrote for AHCJ.

Boulton explains comparative effectiveness

Next time somebody asks why the stimulus plan included $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research (and where all that money’s going), point them to Guy Boulton’s latest explanatory piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In this first installment, Boulton lays a strong foundation for the rest of his “occasional series” on comparative effectiveness by thoroughly answering the “how” and “why” of the massive research effort with carefully selected examples, experts and statistics. No word yet on where the series will go from here, but it’s a promising start.

Tip sheet for AHCJ members

Tracking health-related stimulus money: By Michael Grabell, ProPublica

Journal Sentinel creates overdose database

Tom Kertscher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analyzed 1,200 fatal overdoses that occurred in the greater Milwaukee area over the past eight years and discovered that the majority of them were prescription drug-related. Kertscher puts the statistics in the context of the high-profile death of a local teenager, one which drew significant media attention to prescription drug abuse in the area.

Of the 1,200 deaths, which do not include suicides, just more than half were caused by prescription drugs.

An additional 19% of the deaths were caused by a mix of pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs, such as heroin.

…The victims of the most potent prescription drugs range from urban teens using anti-anxiety medications to get high to middle-age suburbanites who get hooked on narcotic painkillers after being injured on the job. They include residents of all 19 Milwaukee County communities and suburban county residents from Belgium to Kewaskum to Mukwonago.

Kertscher’s overdose database is available online and can be sorted through a search tool or overlaid on a Google map. The map can be sorted by race, age, sex, year and drug type.

Journal editor linked to spinal implant royalties

John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel continues his coverage of conflicts of interest in medical research and journals with a look at journal editors. First, Fauber lays out the case in question:

  • For seven years, a University of Wisconsin orthopedic surgeon (university bio | hospital bio) has been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques.
  • During that time, he’s received more than $20 million in patent royalties thanks to spinal implants sold by Medtronic.
  • Also during that time, an average of more than one Medtronic-related article appeared in each issue of the journal, most of them positive. Some were even co-authored by the editor/surgeon himself and related to the implant for which he gets royalties.
  • Despite these coincidences, the journal never disclosed the potential conflict of interest.

Fauber then goes on to explore why journal editors aren’t mentioned more often in conflict-of-interest scandals, and then to explain exactly why those editors hold the sort of power that makes these conflicts particularly distressing. As Fauber explains, editors of medical journals can accept or reject manuscripts of studies involving drugs or devices – something that can make or break the product.

They can send a study out to peer reviewers who may be sympathetic to a particular drug or device by virtue of their own financial relationships with the companies that make those products. They can give authors more leeway to say positive things about a drug. They can turn down studies that say bad things about the product of a company they get money from.

The author of “On The Take: How Medicine’s Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health,” Jerome Kassirer, says that “Once an editor makes a decision, there is no recourse; they are like a king.”

Earlier coverage:

Wis. researchers didn’t disclose conflicts to journals

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter John Fauber reports that conflicts of interest that local researchers disclosed to the university were not always disclosed when those researchers’ work was published.

Photo by gregsmyth via Flickr.

Their investigation, a “spot check” of about 40 researchers, uncovered at least nine conflicts, such as the cancer specialist (bio) at the University of Wisconsin who “co-authored a medical article on TomoTherapy, a radiation therapy system developed by researchers at the university.” The article failed to mention that the physician had disclosed the university that he’d make $20,000 in 2008 consulting for TomoTherapy, and that he owned TomoTherapy stock options.

Fauber explores the causes of these failures to disclose conflicts of interest, which include systemic weaknesses in both research and publication and reliance on an “honor system.” He talks a little about his reporting method; it’s the sort of story that can be localized by anyone whose local university has a conflict of interest disclosure policy.