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Guest Blog: NIH to Drop Requirement for Websites Disclosing Researchers' Ties to Industry


Elaine Schattner, M.D., is a' trained oncol'­ogist, hema'­tol'­ogist, edu'­cator and jour'­nalist who writes about med'­icine. Her views on health care are informed by her expe'­ri'­ences as a' patient with sco'­l'­iosis since childhood and other con'­di'­tions including breast cancer. She is a Clinical Asso'­ciate Pro'­fessor of Med'­icine at Weill Cornell Medical College, where she teaches part-time. She holds an active New York State medical license and is board-certified in the Internal Med'­icine sub'­spe'­cialties of Hema'­tology (blood dis'­eases) and Oncology (cancer medicine). She writes regularly on her blog, Medical Lessons. You can follower her on Twitter @ElaineSchattner.

Word comes from Nature News that the NIH is dropping a' pro'­posed requirement for uni'­ver'­sities to dis'­close researchers' financial ties to industry on web'­sites. This is a' loss for patients, who may not be aware of their doctors' rela'­tion'­ships with phar'­ma'­ceu'­tical com'­panies and others who fund clinical trials, fel'­low'­ships, con'­ference junkets and other perks for physicians.

In 2010, NIH Director Francis Collins wrote: 'As the nation's bio'­medical research agency, the National Insti'­tutes of Health (NIH) must ensure that the research it funds on the behalf of US tax'­payers is sci'­en'­tif'­i'­cally rig'­orous and free of' bias.'

This sounds right to me, as it did to the folks at the health and safety arm of Public Citizen, according to the Nature report:
'a' cor'­ner'­stone of that trans'­parency drive ' a' series of pub'­licly acces'­sible web'­sites detailing such financial con'­flicts ' has now been dropped. 'They have pulled the rug out from under this,' says Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, a' consumer-''protection orga'­ni'­zation based in Wash'­ington DC. 'It greatly dimin'­ishes the amount of vig'­i'­lance that the public can exercise over finan'­cially con'­flicted research being funded by the' NIH.'

As explained in the article, the pro'­posal came about after evi'­dence came to light that prominent NIH grant recip'­ients had failed to inform their employers (uni'­ver'­sities and medical schools) about lucrative pay'­ments from com'­panies that may have influ'­enced their research. The problem now comes, in part, from lack of funding: the White House Office of Man'­agement and Budget (OMB) has no way to enforce the requirement.

That's no sur'­prise. But it turns out that aca'­demic groups lobbied against the requirement. According to the Nature News piece, the Asso'­ci'­ation of American Uni'­ver'­sities and the Asso'­ci'­ation of American Medical Col'­leges sub'­mitted a' joint statement objecting that a' website detailing physi'­cians' potential con'­flicts of interest (COI) would be onerous:
'There are serious and rea'­sonable con'­cerns among our members that the Web posting will be of little prac'­tical value to the public and, without context for the infor'­mation, could lead to con'­fusion rather than clarity regarding financial con'­flicts of interest and how they are managed.'

As a' patient and as a' physician who's cared for patients in clinical trials and served on an insti'­tu'­tional review board (IRB), I' can't be more clear in my thinking that the public should know about aca'­demic (and all) physi'­cians' ties with industry.' Every insti'­tution with NIH funding should make this kind of infor'­mation readily available and clear to patients.' Otherwise, the faculty don't deserve the NIH support they're receiving for the research, nor do they deserve the public's trust in their' work.

Patients should be able to find this kind of infor'­mation readily, before they enroll in clinical trials or decide to undergo any elective pro'­ce'­dures, and even before they choose the physician who would guide them in health care decisions.

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More Blog Posts by Elaine Schattner

author bio

Elaine Schattner, M.D., is a trained oncol­ogist, hema­tol­ogist, edu­cator and jour­nalist who writes about med­icine. Her views on health care are informed by her expe­ri­ences as a patient with sco­l­iosis since childhood and other con­di­tions including breast cancer. She is a Clinical Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Med­icine at Weill Cornell Medical College, where she teaches part-time. She holds an active New York State medical license and is board-certified in the Internal Med­icine sub­spe­cialties of Hema­tology (blood dis­eases) and Oncology (cancer medicine). She writes regularly on her blog, Medical Lessons. You can follower her on Twitter @ElaineSchattner.

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