When It Comes to Doctors’ Ties to Drug Companies, Patients Want Transparency

Most patients and research subjects believe that the financial ties their clinicians and researchers have with private companies should be disclosed, according to findings published in Archives of Internal Medicine by researchers at Yale School of Medicine.

“Financial ties between clinicians, researchers and private companies continue to be a contentious issue among politicians, the media and physician groups,” said lead author on the study Cary Gross, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “We found that patients and research subjects believe financial ties affect professional behavior.”

Gross and his colleagues systematically reviewed data from 20 surveys conducted primarily with patients. Many patients in the survey viewed physician ties to drug companies as unacceptable or inappropriate, especially when the gift or relationships is of a personal nature. For example 47-60 percent of patients thought free dinners were unacceptable, and many patients believe these ties decrease the quality of the care they receive and increase its costs.

As calls for more disclosure, including pending national legislation that would require public reporting of physician ties to companies, Gross and his team hope their work can inform this movement in a way that benefits patients.

“We hope our study will improve the design of these public reporting systems, perhaps by highlighting the kind of information patients want disclosed and shedding light on how they will think about that information,” said first author and Yale medical student Adam Licurse.

The study also provides insight on what is not well understood in the literature. “We found few studies that asked patients how financial ties affect patients’ decisions about choosing a doctor,” said Licurse. “While many studies asked patients if they would still participate in research after learning about ties to drug companies, little is known about whether patients would be any less likely to choose a doctor if they knew about financial ties.”

Licurse said that teasing out these behavioral outcomes and answering more of the questions surrounding patient decision-making will be the next step.

Other authors on the study included Emma Barber of Yale and Steve Joffe, M.D. of Harvard.

Citation: Arch Intern Med. Vol. 170, No. 8 (April 26, 2010):

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326