Friday, January 10, 2014

Physicians’ Personal Information Tracked by Medical Communication Companies, Study Finds

Authors of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association have found that medical communication companies (MCCs)are doing more than offering online continuing medical education (CME) courses to physicians—the companies may be monitoring clinicians' website behavior.

Researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University investigated the financial relationship between MCCs and drug companies and whether MMCs accurately represent themselves to clinicians. More than 19,000 grants were evaluated to assess the financial giving practices of 15 major pharmaceutical and device companies from Fiscal 2010.

Data showed that of the $657 million in grant money awarded, 26 percent was allocated to MMCs, followed by academic medical institutions at 21 percent and disease-targeting advocacy organizations at 15 percent. The MCCs receiving the most funding offered online CME courses and acknowledged using cookies and Web beacons to track physicians’ online activity, in addition to sharing personal information with third parties, including “educational partners” and companies with which they have a working relations. Although MCCs did not elicit users' explicit consent, the companies did interpret “participating in a CME course and navigating the website as an implicit agreement to share information with third parties.”

Paul Appelbaum, M.D., a former APA president and the Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, said that "even 'free' CME courses come with a price." As chair of APA's Committee on Judicial Action, Appelbaum told Psychiatric News that information collected by MCCs may be shared with pharmaceutical companies for market research or targeted promotions, leading to physicians being visited by certain drug representatives. He urged all clinicians to evaluate the privacy policies of the companies before signing up for CME courses. "If physicians aren’t comfortable with the amount of information they will be revealing, they should decline to participate," Appelbaum concluded.

To read more about pharmaceutical marketing, see the Psychiatric News article "Industry Influence Can Be Mediated by Understanding Theory Behind It."

(Image: Rosenthal)


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