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Monday, December 17th 2007

A Reasonable Cry For Transparency

A look at the relationship between drug companies and medical journals, and the level of transparency which should exist.

The public deserves to know about the extent to which every medical journal relies on pharmaceutical advertising revenue to run its business. In 2003, drug companies spent almost half a billion dollars on advertising in medical journals. The two lead general medical journals in the United States—the New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association—receive about $18 million and $27 million each year, respectively, for display advertisements (as opposed to classified ads placed by individuals seeking jobs or institutions seeking qualified candidates). The display ads represent 10 percent to 21 percent of the journals’ overall revenue, according to one study.

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I have a modest suggestion: In addition to requiring authors to post conflict-of-interest statements when they publish an article, medical journals should tell readers how much revenue they themselves have received in the previous year from the company producing the drug or device under discussion. The total sum should include not just advertising pages purchased, but also the other ways that industry money can slip into journal pockets, by buying reprints and journal supplements. Show us the actual dollar (or euro or pounds sterling) amount. And if a professional society sponsors the journal, tell us about its financial dealings with the drug companies as well.

I couldn’t agree more. I appreciate the “modest” and reasonable suggestion. This isn’t some looney left cry that we eliminate the relationship, but if there is any integrity within the field then they should be more transparent. Let physicians (and the public) come to their own conclusions about the potential conflicts of interests, but at least give them the information to do so.

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