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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 18317

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Shepherd T
Alarm at growing medical 'spin'
The Advertiser 2010 July 5

Full text:

DOCTORS are losing faith in medical literature as pharmaceutical companies undermine the integrity of trials, an Adelaide doctor says.

Dr Peter Parry, a psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Flinders University, says trial sponsors use suppression and spinning of negative data to sell their products and that leads to doctors unknowingly making the wrong prescribing choices.

He says poor results are hidden, while positive results are “cherry picked”. Articles are often written by marketing-driven ghostwriters.

Another tactic is “disease mongering” to expand the “recognised boundaries of a disease … in order to increase prescriptions and sales”.

Dr Parry, a member of the Adelaide-based international group Healthy Skepticism, voices his concerns in the latest edition of the journal Bioethical Inquiry.
“The industry and its associated medical communication firms state that publications in the medical literature primarily serve marketing interests,” he says.

“Suppression and spinning of negative data and ghostwriting have emerged as tools to help manage medical journal publications to best suit product sales, while disease mongering and market segmentation of physicians are also used to efficiently maximise profits.”

Dr Parry says there is now a “crisis of trust”, with doctors losing confidence in the information they should be able to rely on.

“It makes me very cautious around prescribing these days,” he says.

He says there is an urgent need for stricter policing of trials and more transparency around what they find.

The article emphasises that the tactics are not unique to any company, but are “quite plainly widespread”.

A US Senate Finance Committee report released earlier this year was the latest in a string of publications critical of so-called Big Pharma.


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As an advertising man, I can assure you that advertising which does not work does not continue to run. If experience did not show beyond doubt that the great majority of doctors are splendidly responsive to current [prescription drug] advertising, new techniques would be devised in short order. And if, indeed, candor, accuracy, scientific completeness, and a permanent ban on cartoons came to be essential for the successful promotion of [prescription] drugs, advertising would have no choice but to comply.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963