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Which medical sources can you trust?

Written by Diane Archer

A new Pro Publica and New York Times investigative report reveals that many of the country’s leading medical journals are publishing articles by doctors with ties to the health care industry–who may stand to financially benefit from their articles–without disclosing these ties. Because of these potential conflicts of interest, it would be a mistake to trust articles from these medical journals. So, which medical sources can you trust?

Evidence abounds that individuals and organizations who take money from the health care industry are more likely to speak favorably about the products of the health care companies who fund them than individuals and organizations who are free of these financial ties. Health care corporate money corrupts people, including doctors, in all kinds of insidious ways. But, a large number of doctors take the money and fail to recognize its corrupting influence, let alone to disclose their financial relationships. In the process, they aid corporations in selling more of their products.

The journals that publish these articles have done a poor job of ensuring appropriate disclosures. Even the highly regarded New England Journal of Medicine has allowed the president-elect of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Howard A. Burris III, to publish 50 articles without disclosing his industry ties and with a declaration that he had no conflicts of interest. He apparently did not believe that nearly $8 million in pharmaceutical industry research money to his employer, the Sarah Cannon Research Institute, amounted to a conflict.

Dr. Robert J. Alpern, the dean of the Yale School of Medicine, wrote a positive article in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology about an experimental treatment, without disclosing that he was a member of the board of directors of the company that had developed the treatment, that he owned stock in the company, or that the company had paid for the clinical trial.  

Almost ten years ago the Institute of Medicine recommended ways that health care journals could do a better job of reporting conflicts of interest. But, little has changed at these journals since then. One recent study reported that only 37 percent of articles by the 100 most highly paid doctors by medical device makers reported their conflicts of interest.

In September, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s chief medical officer, Dr. José Baselga, resigned after an investigative report revealed his undisclosed ties to industry.

One doctor recently argued in JAMA that researchers who do not disclose their financial ties should face charges of misconduct. Without these disclosures, their research cannot be trusted. They are effectively “falsifying” information. And the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors may decide to recommend that the institutions that hire researchers who do not disclose financial ties look into whether they should be charged with research misconduct.

For now, you can find trustworthy research on Cochrane, an independent non-profit research institute. You also should seriously question all research that may have been funded with corporate dollars. And, you should beware of medical advice from the mainstream media.

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1 Comment

  • It’s not just the medical publications. Medicine has ceased to be a calling. It’s now big business. I’ve learned to beware of doctors who are nearing retirement age and even some who aren’t. They’re inclined to prescribe meds that are next to useless and prescribe questionable equipment for their patients, but have big kickbacks for the doctor. Wait! Isn’t that illegal? Should be, but I don’t think that anybody is policing it.

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