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New York Times Pushes for Academic Detailing

Posted Oct 28 2008 9:56pm
In last week’s editorial on “counter-detailing,” the New York Times has launched its latest volley against the pharmaceutical industry. No real surprises here.

However, I’m embarrassed that the New York Times gets it so wrong (although it doesn’t really surprise me). The essence of the New York Times Editorial is an endorsement of Jerry Avorn’s attempt to institute national-level counter-detailing against the efforts of those vile pharmaceutical reps.

Avorn’s been on this kick for decades and has been unable to demonstrate in a peer-reviewed setting that his theories actually work. While testifying under oath, he himself has acknowledged his ideas are idealistic at best and would require billions of dollars to actually be successful. I wonder if Herb Kohl is willing to invest billions of dollars with no proof of concept. I doubt it.

But I digress. The New York Times has editorialized, “With comprehensive, unbiased information, doctors should be more likely to prescribe the best drug for a patient, not necessarily the newest, high-priced drug that is being pushed by a drug company sales representative.” The “unbiased information” is where the Times gets it wrong.

I’m willing to support academic detailing and I think truly unbiased information is what we should all be striving for. Unlike the New York Times, I don’t believe that stifling anyone’s speech is ultimately in the best interest of patients. And unlike the New York Times, I don’t think that suppressing information is helpful to doctor’s in determining what is in the best interest of patients.

Insurance company giants have lobbied the folks at Harvard around the content of their academic detailing program. Many of the “unbiased” medical experts get the official Gold Seal of Approval from the nation’s largest and wealthiest HMOs. The insurance company’s interests are not “unbiased information.” It is purely cost containment – and anyone who has been around since the early 1990s (or seen Michael Moore’s movie SiCKO) knows that HMOs don’t exactly have patient’s best interests at heart. The New York Times must have missed this in its quest for “unbiased information.”

I’ll support academic detailing, but only if it isn’t a rubber stamp on HMO’s attempts to ration care and shift the entire cost burden onto patients while they pay record bonuses to their CEOs.
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