Academics, industry, health reform and medical devices

The NYTimes business section has an update on academic/industry partnerships and explains new transparency rules in the Senate reform bill. Massachusetts has had a state law on this but it’s only been in effect for a few months. A group of doctors who oppose the law held a meeting in Boston this summer.

Also, read on and find that for first time I my career, I found a device (or drug) maker list payments to med school docs, In this case Mass General.

From the NYTimes:

 Health Bills Aim a Light on Doctors’ Conflicts 

As part of the health care overhaul under consideration by Congress, lawmakers have included so-called sunshine provisions intended to shed light on the financial relationships between the medical industry and doctors.

The targets are common business practices like drug company payments to doctors for speeches and consulting services, which have the potential to influence patient care and drive up the nation’s medical bills.

For more about industry sponsorship of academic research, see the article in the latest issue of Health Affairs. where a group of Boston area researchers found that “52.8 percent have some form of relationship with industry.”

There are many potential impacts of these data. First, given that industry relationships are frequent and diverse, close scrutiny of researchers’ industry relationships is likely to be a major undertaking for institutions—especially among those with large numbers of researchers. Second, relationships are most common among productive, senior faculty members who contribute substantially to their research community. This finding supports the belief that it is difficult, but not impossible, to find academic scientists without industry relationships to serve in advisory roles for organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration, the NIH, or the Institute of Medicine. Third, the widespread nature of these relationships will raise serious concerns regarding the integrity of the academic research enterprise (either rightly or wrongly) on the part of elected officials, university officials, and perhaps the American public.

In a related story, James Ridgeway comments on a Mother Jones story on medical devices on his excellent “Unsilent Generation” blog. Read both. THe MJ story mentions two companies with ties to the state and, in one case, to Mass General doctors.

These companies makes things like artificial joints and heart valves, which are often needed by older people—and paid for by Medicare.

In recent months, these companies have launched a huge lobbying blitz  in response to provisions in the health care reform bills that would levy fees on their high-profit enterprise. The efforts apparently have not been wasted: In the latest versions of the legislation, the level of fees has dropped considerably (though that hasn’t stopped the manufacturers’ whining).

In the Mother Jones story,  DePuy, is based in Raynham, is one of four companies that in 2007 “said they would pay $311 million to settle federal charges that they gave doctors millions of dollars in kickbacks, often in the guise of consulting fees. The government deferred prosecution of the four companies so long as they complied with the settlement terms.

Another company settling was Indiana-based  Zimmer, which has been a player  at Mass General. On the company website , they list more than $9 million in consulting fees paid to eight doctors at Mass General Hospital since 2007 and another $19 million to some of those docs and others for a total of 14 who  listed under MGH Corporation.  More on MGH’s role in licensing right to material to the company that was used for orthopedic implants.

 For news about the medical device industry, see Mass Device, a website devoted to news about local companies and national trends.

More on journalist Gary Schwitzer’s Health News blog.

Meantime, it doesn’t take the NY Times to dig into conflict of interest issues. A student journalist with the Minnesota Daily points out how medical students receive free textbooks from drug companies promoting their products. Case in point: an otolaryngology text given out by a company making an ear infection drug – with the company’s logo on it, and with the beginning of each chapter crediting the drug company.


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