Life Science Compliance Update

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September 07, 2011

ACRE Responds to the ProPublica Second Report Industry Payments to Physicians

Fair balance 
ProPublica this evening released their compilation of payments to physicians "Dollars for Doc's and rather than report on what was spent in 2010, they once again showed their lack of fair balance and reported the aggregate of funds paid to physicians since the beginning of public disclosure which amounted to $760 million dollars over several years.   In response to this “Campaign of Shame” the Association of Clinical Researchers and Educators (ACRE)  announced its opposition to the improper use of physician-industry payment data by ProPublica.  

ACRE strongly recommends that ProPublica strictly abide by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which encourages all journalists to “promote public enlightenment” by, “seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”  ProPublica should develop, and publicly report on, safeguards and compliance mechanisms to ensure that it is providing objective, fair balanced reporting of all issues, including physician-industry collaborations which have wide ranging implications for patients everywhere.

Almost one year ago, ProPublica published its Dollars for Docs database, which combined compensation data for research, consulting and education, as well as transfers of value such as accompanying meals during such activities, from several biopharmaceutical companies and created a searchable website for journalists and, ostensibly, for the public to see how much a particular doctor earned for various activities. 

After publishing the data, ProPublica and other media outlets, to whom data and stories were provided, failed to objectively portray such payments and offered minimal, if any, contextual information.  Numerous articles were published describing the “potential” negative consequences of physician-industry collaboration, while failing to obtain any alternative perspectives, a tenet of high quality journalism.  News sources also frequently published articles with inflammatory headlines such as, “Docs paid to talk about drugs,” to further sensationalize and discredit ethical and legal collaborations that provide value to patients in the form of new treatments, drugs, devices, and more efficient and cost-effective care.

ACRE is concerned that ProPublica will continue to provide coverage of these issues that do not meet the basic principles of journalism.  In particular, we are concerned that ProPublica will continue its ad hominem attack on physicians who educate their peers, conduct clinical research, and consult with industry to ensure that Americans have the most advanced treatments and medicines, providing little opportunity for public enlightenment. 

What value does ProPublica bring to the American healthcare system by “analyzing” and publicizing such payments?  Will it lead to lower costs when drugs account for less than 15% of health care costs?  Will it lead to better patient outcomes?  Will drugs, devices or treatments get to patients sooner and through FDA approval faster?  Will clinical trials be conducted more safely and efficiently because payment data is now available? 

ACRE members from leading academic health centers across the country can attest that the answer is, no.  In fact, poor reporting of payments is having the opposite effect.  Reporting on payment data without proper contextual information is having a chilling effect on important collaborations, which hurts progress and patients.  Fewer researchers are doing research, educating their peers, and consulting with companies.  These added costs of one-sided transparency campaigns do not outweigh the benefits.

ACRE will continue to shine the light on ProPublica until they meet their journalistic duties and provide balanced coverage of this important health care issue.  We will also defend the physicians and health care providers who collaborate and work with the biopharmaceutical industry.  They are responsible for the advances in medicine that we rely on now and hope for in the future.

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