Reporters curious about the financial relationship between physicians and pharmaceutical companies can use publicly available data as a starting point – although that comes with some caveats, journalists and industry leaders say.
During the workshop “Covering prescription drug data,” Charles Ornstein, ProPublica senior reporter, pointed out resources that ProPublica has created that reporters can use to write stories about doctors in their communities. Continue reading
When The Cincinnati Enquirer set out to look at the societal costs of the deadly opioid crisis, reporter Lisa Bernard-Kuhn was assigned to look at the role of chronic pain.
During more than eight months of reporting, she looked into how doctors measure pain, how effect opioids are at treating pain, patients’ expectations and more.
In an article for AHCJ, she explains how she was able to get doctors and patients to talk on the record and shares some of her most useful sources and lessons learned.
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.
Can a doctor’s prescription be bought for a tuna sandwich?
Whether it’s a tuna sandwich, steak dinner or a four-figure payment, there’s always the possibility of influence. And that’s how conflicts of interest begin in the medical field.
That was the message this morning from reporters Peter Whoriskey of The Washington Post and John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel during their panel on reporting on medical and financial conflicts of interest during AHCJ’s Health Journalism 2013 in Boston.
“Their job is to sell as much product as they can and maximize profits,” Fauber said of the pharmaceutical companies. “One of the ways they do that is by creating financial relationships with various stakeholders, which can be doctors, medical societies or medical schools. While this may be good for the bottom line of the drug companies, it may not work out for the patients.”
Fauber advised journalists to be on the watch for several things: promotional speaking gigs by physicians; participation in continuing medical education (CME) events; financial relationships between medical journal editors and drug companies; and royalties that come back to hospitals and physicians.
“It struck me very quickly that all the cynicism the media brings to politicians or companies, anybody, is held in abeyance for doctors and anybody that wants to heal you,” Fauber said. Continue reading
As part of the ongoing Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today series “Side Effects” John Fauber and Ellen Gabler “examined 20 clinical practice guidelines for conditions treated by the 25 top-selling drugs in the United States” and unearthed yet another tactic by which “pharmaceutical companies, with billions in sales at stake, exert a powerful but often unrecognized influence over the practice of American medicine.”
Issued by leading medical associations and government institutions, treatment guidelines are supposed to be based on rigorous science. But the committees that write them have been dominated by doctors who have worked as paid speakers, consultants or advisers for companies selling the recommended drugs.
In their investigation, the duo found:
- Nine guidelines were written by panels where more than 80 percent of doctors had financial ties to drug companies.
- Four panels did not require members to disclose any conflicts of interest. Of the 16 that did, 66 percent of doctors on the panels had ties to drug companies.
- Some guidelines written by conflicted panels recommend drugs that have not been scientifically proven to safely treat conditions, leading to inappropriate or over prescribing. Medical experts have raised such questions about guidelines for anemia, chronic pain and asthma.
For extensive anecdotes and examples, dig into the full piece.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s John Fauber explains what a federal appeals court ruling this week might mean for patient care, television advertising and many other issues.
The case of United States vs. Alfred Caronia, a pharmaceutical company representative, “involved the right of commercial free speech, applying it to the complicated world of pharmaceutical industry promotion of prescription drugs.”
Caronia was prosecuted for making off-label promotional statements about Xyrem, a drug approved in 2002 to treat narcolepsy patients. He contended his statements were protected by the First Amendment, saying that the government couldn’t “prohibit or criminalize a drug company’s truthful, non-misleading off-label promotion to doctors.”
Fauber notes that “The appeals court essentially agreed, noting that Caronia never conspired to put false or deficient labeling on the drug.”
In his article, Fauber – no stranger to covering conflicts of interest in the medical industry – outlines the surprisingly far-reaching potential effect of the ruling – called a “watershed moment” by one source.