Should We Care About the Dinner Tab?

From the annual meeting of the American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists

By flickr user UnorthodoxY, used under Creative Commons license

By flickr user UnorthodoxY, used under Creative Commons license

The call for greater transparency regarding the relationship between medicine and commercial industries is typically made from outside the field. But here at this meeting, members of the audience quizzed the speakers at an industry-supported lunch symposium about the influence SciMed and AstraZeneca had on what they were hearing.

The three authors responded that neither company tried to dictate the content of their talks, with one author noting that she didn’t even know who the sponsors were until arriving at the meeting.

Last month, the American Psychiatric Association  voted to phase out industry-supported symposia along with industry-supported meals at its annual meetings.

“Although we took great care to avoid biased reporting at all our symposia, we came to the conclusion that the only way to totally eliminate the risk is to have the symposia supported by the APA alone,” APA president Dr. Nada Stotland said in a statement.

AACP president Dr. Sanjay Gupta (no, not that one) said in an interview that AACP is currently reviewing the APA policy, and has not yet changed its policy. He went on to stress that the meeting topics are decided entirely by the AACP board.

I recognize that industry sponsorship could subtly influence the slides a physician chooses to include in his or her talk, but I wonder if all this concern about who’s picking up the dinner tab isn’t obscuring a bigger problem.

When the results of a multicenter randomized trial are reported, I’m more interested in who conducted the data analyses than the conflicts of interest reported by an individual investigator. Yet this fact is rarely reported by investigators or journalists.

If the current financial meltdown has taught us anything, it’s that the one massaging the numbers yields enormous power to deceive.

—Patrice Wendling
(on Twitter @pwendl)
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