Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Industry-Funded Medical Writers vs. Health Care Reform

Recently, a former staff medical writer at a MECC (Medical Education Communication Company) anonymously alerted me to a particularly sleazy advertising tactic used by a medical writing company. This person had worked as a pharma-supported medical writer for several years, but recently quit because, “I really couldn't stomach the ethical problems associated with writing for the pharma industry." Recently, looking for medical writing jobs, this writer came across a company called "Emron--" no, not Enron, although the ethical standards of the sound-alike companies appear to be similar.

Here is how
Emron advertises its writing services to the pharmaceutical industry:

When you’re looking to compete on quality, set your sights on Emron for top-flight healthcare marketing communications and brand management. We drive sales, access and reimbursement in competitive markets: our clients achieve sustained competitive advantage by creating product demand and reducing price-sensitivity.

Now, if Emron were simply an advertising company, I would have no problem with this. Ad copy writers specialize in the craft of helping companies gain market share. As a newsletter publisher, I appreciate the magic of good marketing copy when I am periodically forced to send out those annoying promotional mailers that most people toss into recycling.

But Emron does much more than advertising. It produces accredited CME programs in order to help their clients "achieve sustained competitive advantage." As the medical writer pointed out to me, the worst part of Emron's statement is the phrase "reducing price sensitivity." With healthcare costs being foremost in the nations' consciousness right now, this attitude is unconscionable. Emron is saying to pharmaceutical companies "To heck with healthcare costs! The pharmaceutical industry should not do anything to compromise their profit margins. And we will offer you our professional staff of writers (for a hefty fee) to write your CME so that doctors will prescribe more of the most expensive drugs."

One example of Emron's work is the
The Contraception Report, a Wyeth-funded newsletter whose underlying purpose is to get doctors interested in Wyeth's latest birth control products. That newsletter has expanded into a website called Contraception Online, which is also entirely funded by Wyeth, and which also provides advertising dressed up as CME. This site is shamefully produced by Baylor College of Medicine; I don't know what part Emron still plays in it, as the website does a good job of making this opaque.

Recently, Murray Kopelow provided
testimony in which he assured the Senate Special Committee on Aging that ACCME is the firewall between education and promotion. Emron's toll-free number is 800-367-6613. I suggest Dr. Kopelow give them a call to help them build a better firewall.


Bruce Wilson said...

I'm glad that ethical medical writers are finally speaking out against these sleazy practices. As a freelance medical writer myself, I have also quit working for MECCs -- I could tell stories of deception that would turn your stomach, all in the name of "CME." Many in my profession are appalled at what goes on and yet are scared to speak out, lest they are blacklisted as "pharmascolds" and undesirables. But speak out we must, for the integrity of medicine and for the sake of the patients who receive these treatments. Keep up the good work, Dr. Carlat.

Michael S. Altus, PhD, ELS said...

Other medical writers left employment with MECCs after having experiences similar to those of Bruce:

1. Linda Logdberg, PhD, fed up with being a ghostauthor with a MECC, became a high school biology teacher.
a. PBS’s NOW with Bill Moyers, “Science for Sale?”, November 22, 2002. Available at _www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_scienceforsale.html_.
b. New York Times, “Madison Ave. Has Growing Role In the Business of Drug Research”, by Melody Petersen, November 22, 2002. Available at _http://tinyurl.com/lkzru3_.

2. Susanna Rees, an editorial assistant with a medical writing agency until 2002, was so concerned about what she witnessed that she posted a letter on the British Medical Journal website.
See “Revealed: how drug firms 'hoodwink' medical journals.” The Observer, Sunday 7 December 2003. Available at _http://tinyurl.com/lrkqts_.

3. Maryam R. Mohassel, PharmD, left a career in academia to accept a MECC. About 1 year later, disillusioned about the challenges and compromises involved, she left to become an editor of a pharmacy journal. See Mohassel MR. Medical education and communication companies: how ideal a fit for pharmacists [editorial]? Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2003 Sep 15;60(18):1837.

Medical Aesthetics Job Search said...

The people are finally starting to speak up and it will show more and more in the future. There are many writers now beginning to grow conscious of what they are doing, and speaking out will only help to get more people to speak out. It's time we got the bug business to think more humanly instead of thinking of the people as sources of income.