At a glance: ‘Ghosting’ of drug reviews

What does that mean? According to evidence presented to the House of Commons select committee, the pharmaceutical industry ghostwrites articles in medical journals about its products, which respected clinicians then put their name to. Up to half the articles published in medical journals are written by pharma industry people.

What does the industry think about it?

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) says it is ‘quite wrong’ for medical professionals to put their name to something they haven’t written. The Lancet has suggested that the evidence presented to the committee was overblown and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) says it requires contributors to state that they had full involvement in the study that appears under their name.

So why does this matter to PROs?

It’s not the first time that the integrity of pharma companies has been under the microscope. Last year, the editor of the BMJ famously described the relationship between doctors and pharma firms, and the use of promotional activity, as ‘grubby’.

Strong stuff. Did he mean PROs dishing out goodie bags?

He meant the potentially corrosive nature of the so-called ‘hospitality culture’. His argument was also directed at the conduct of sales reps and other elements of marketing, but the need for greater distance between PROs and doctors was the heart of it.

This all sounds like a challenge for the PR industry.

It certainly is, but the challenge is about to become rather more specific. In December, the House of Commons Select Committee will call PROs to explain their role in ‘medical comms’.

Is everyone ready?

No one knows who will have to appear, but PROs are understandably nervous about the prospect. The chair of the Healthcare Communications Association believes the committee needs to better communicate its own ‘agenda and endpoint’ (PRWeek, 8 October).

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