Conflicts of Interest Rampant In Healthcare Industry, Requiring Oversight: Study

Findings show need for more extensive oversight to protect patients' interests, the researchers noted

Many organizations that provide research and guidelines for pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices have financial ties to manufacturers of those same products, which may pose a conflict of interest that ultimately jeopardizes the safety of patients patients, according to the findings of a new study.

Researchers with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, published a report this month in the medical journal, The BMJ, which identified the rampant presence of potential conflicts of interest among companies manufacturing drugs or medical devices, with organizations that hold influence on the approval and market supply for those products.

Concerns about potential conflicts of interest and undue influence from manufacturers have existed for years, with past studies raising concerns over the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to influence the devices and prescriptions chosen by health care professionals, which can lead to less than ideal treatment and higher costs to patients.

The team of researchers sought out to identify all known ties between the medical product industry and the health care ecosystem by reviewing 538 articles from 37 countries. The researchers formed a map which depicted how industry ties existed and why there is a need for regulatory oversight.

The study found an extensive network of medical product industry ties to activities and parties in the healthcare system through research, healthcare education, guideline development, formulary selection, and clinical care.

Researchers found that “the medical product industry has direct ties to all parties and some activities through multiple pathways; direct ties extend through interrelationships among parties and activities.”

Many of the conflicts of interest involved some form of financial gain, including money or items of value, such as grants, contributions to public officials for campaigns, financial contributions to government agencies and healthcare organizations, and private consultancy work.

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The most frequently identified conflicts of interest were within the healthcare profession, with individual professionals described in 78% of the included studies. Researchers found that more than half of the articles reviewed had ties between the medical product industry and medical research.

The researchers suggested the apparent, and prevalent, conflicts of interest highlight the need for enhanced oversight and transparency, to ensure patient care is guided by scientifically supported benefits, rather than from commercial influence.

In 2019, The BMJ published a study by French researchers, which found doctors who received gifts of more than $1,100 from drug companies were more likely to prescribe brand name drugs, instead of generic drugs, which cost their patients much more and sometimes less effective.

The study revealed nearly 90% of general practitioners in France received at least one gift since 2013, and found that pharmaceutical companies paid doctors more than $3 billion dollars in 2018 for prescribing their drugs and using their medical devices.

Recent reports in the U.S. indicate $46 million in pharmaceutical gifting from opioid manufacturers was intended to increase the sales of the addictive narcotic painkillers. Doctor prescribing has largely been to blame for the rising opioid abuse epidemic.

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