Industry Pay, Doctors, and Bloggers

The NY Times has a story about the welcome trend of doctors who refuse to accept industry pay such as consulting fees for sitting on advisory boards. In one case, at least, bloggers played a role (italics mine):

Dr. Peter Libby, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that when he first began receiving offers from drug companies, in the early 1980s, they seemed like a natural reflection of his burgeoning reputation.
“When you start emerging as an opinion leader or as a researcher who has knowledge and expertise, the pharmaceutical industry takes an interest in either having you consult to help them with their research or to speak,” he said.
Dr. Libby wanted to assist. Like many scientists, he feels that it is important for researchers to consult with drug companies to help develop therapies and set up studies. He never owned stock in companies that he consulted for. He always disclosed the fact that he consulted and spoke for companies. And, he added, he thought that he was protected from accusations of favoring any particular company’s products because he consulted for so many.
“I lived safely in that comfort zone for many years,” Dr. Libby said.
Then he was hit with a moment of truth. He had spent four years working without pay to help create a public television series, “The Mysterious Human Heart.” The project was, he thought, a worthy effort to educate the public about what heart disease was and how to prevent it. He was proud and pleased when the series was broadcast in October.
But to his dismay, bloggers immediately attacked him and the other medical experts who appeared on the programs for having consulted for manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, Dr. Libby said, adding: “They said we were biased. What I thought was four years of public service was impugned.
That was a wake-up call for me. I was singed in the blogosphere.”
…His motives are straightforward, he replies. “I want to speak out about the beliefs I am passionate about regarding prevention and medical advances that I think can reduce disease and save lives,” he said. “It is not worth it to be under suspicion.”

On the other hand, one doctor isn’t entirely happy about this:

“I am responding to a societal pressure,” Dr. Winer said. “I just said enough is enough. And in truth, it has made my life simpler. I no longer debate can I take this, can I not take this. It is simpler when I talk to reporters. It is simpler when I give lectures.”
On the other hand, he mused, the decision had a subtle effect. Now that he receives no compensation, he is less willing to help pharmaceutical companies research treatments.
“My willingness to go to an advisory board meeting has gone down,” Dr. Winer said. “Do I want to spend my Saturdays and Sundays at a meeting? As much as I am a dedicated researcher, I have to have a life.”
“This is a complicated arena,” he added. “And on some level I resent the fact that I had to make this decision.”

Um, other than the money (and from the rest of the article, it doesn’t sound like that was the issue), what is wrong? He gets some of his weekends back, along with his good name. If you want to work for a pharmaceutical company, then apply for a job at one. This is analogous to the government-private sector door. You can’t keep going through it: at some point, you can’t have it all. And integrity isn’t such a bad thing.

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2 Responses to Industry Pay, Doctors, and Bloggers

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