Monday, July 1, 2013

The Impact of Pharma on Health Care Practice


Why Medical Marketing is Dangerous To You And Your Kids

You may find this sentiment paranoid, but the pernicious influence of Pharma money on unscrupulous doctors is a noted menace to public health, from the top of medical academia.

Harvard Medical School, the alma mater of Drs. Miller and Christakis, itself has a notorious history of influential psychiatrists paid by drug companies, disseminating dangerous practices. The psychiatrist Joseph Biederman--in 2007, ranked the second-highest producer of high-impact psychiatry papers--popularized attention deficit meds, as well as antipsychotic drugs as a treatment for "pediatric bipolar disorder." Kids' bipolar is a controversial diagnosis, since many psychiatrists believe the disorder's symptoms aren't detectable before adolescence--and yet the number of kids treated for bipolar increased 40-fold from 1994 to 2003, no doubt due in part to Biederman's influence. Rules by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) limit a doctor to taking no more than $20,000 from a drug company whose drug he is funded by the NIH to research. Yet the New York Times revealed in 2008 that Biederman had taken $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug companies over 8 years, while researching and promoting their drugs, without disclosing to the NIH or to Harvard. In 2011, Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital denounced three psychiatrists, including Biederman, for taking secret Pharma pay for drugs they researched and promoted.


Doctor-Network Mapping: Propaganda-Machine, Healthcare Enabler, or Both?

Not that any of this is the fault of Drs. Miller and Christakis at Activate Networks, Inc. Their analytics tools seem likely to do good for medicine--promoting good health practices, from exercise to nutrition, not only in hospitals but also in corporate structures and communities. Outside of hospitals', doctors', and corporate networks, the company has applied its methods to the population of a whole city (Manhattan Beach, California), for a public health initiative by Healthways, a Tennessee-based "well-being company," using census data and publicly available address and co-ownership data to determine links between citizens, and to identify the community's most influential members to target for outreach.

But the market-forces of Big Pharma will lead inevitably to heavier pressures on doctors to sell out--to over-prescribe meds whose efficacy is supported mostly by industry-funded studies. And, because data-mining is a value-neutral tool, and Activate Networks is happy to get business from whatever customers want to pay (and Big Pharma is a deep-pocketed client)--the most influential doctors should be prepared to be bombarded with the full force of medical marketing. Docs, please, hold your ground.


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