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Physician Payments for Journal Articles Scrutinized

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 17, 2010

While it has become standard practice in recent years for journal authors to disclose relationships with industry, the requirements have varied—leaving authors to determine the relevance of a financial relationship to a submitted article. As a result, disclosures have been inconsistent—even when the information could have been verified independently by the journals, researchers say in the latest Archives of Internal Medicine.

When researchers compared physician payment information from five orthopedic device companies with disclosure of company payments in journal articles in their study, they were able to find nondisclosed payments to 41 orthopedic surgeon researchers that ranged from just over $1 million to a high of $8.8 million. Of those authors, 32 published 151 articles between Jan. 1, 2008, and Jan. 15, 2009.

While almost all of the articles written by the surgeons were directly related to a device made by the company, none of the journal articles revealed how substantial those payments were that were made to the authors.

Whether the surgeons didn't disclose these details or whether the journals didn't publish the information is not known, says David Rothman, MD, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) at Columbia University, which conducted the Archives study. "We weren't pointing a finger at either surgeons or editors because we didn't know where [the nondisclosure] was."

However, the point of the study was to identify "the extraordinary lapse in the system" of revealing this data, says Rothman, who is also a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Society and Medicine at Columbia. The researchers obtained their data by reviewing 2007 physician payment data from five orthopedic device company sites to "evaluate the transparency provided by the current system."

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