Why is a doctor’s society funded by drug companies?

USA Today in conjunction with ProPublica has shed light on a troubling relationship between medical professional groups—which set national guidelines for treatments, lobby Congress, promote disease awareness, and provide treatment information for the public—and medical device and drug companies. The article uses the example of the Heart Rhythm Society, one of few medical groups that make details regarding their finances public. Almost half of the $16 million the Heart Rhythm Society collected in 2010 came from makers of drugs, catheters and defibrillators used to control abnormal heart rhythms.

Members of the society attending a conference last week were besieged by corporate sponsorship, including samples of a new heart drug left in their hotel rooms. Heart Rhythm Society officials say that the industry money does not buy influence and helps to develop new treatments. The society’s top sponsor, Medtronic, issued a statement that medical societies play an important role in educating physicians about their devices; two of the society's other funders have paid millions in recent years to settle federal allegations that they improperly paid kickbacks to physicians to use their cardiac devices. Read the entire article on this issue here.

Earlier this year, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than one in five patients who received cardiac defibrillators did not meet science-based criteria for getting them. Considering the number of preventable errors that occur, and the risks involved in implanting medical devices in patients, we should all be aware of the close relationship between doctors and drug companies.

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