Docs rarely disclose conflicts of interest when discussing drugs and devices on social media

By Matt Kuhrt

Healthcare professionals rarely note conflicts of interest when promoting prescription drugs or medical devices on social media--including whether they have been paid by drug and medical device companies to do so--a practice that has begun to raise ethical questions among some of their peers, according to an article published by STAT.

In its examination of healthcare professionals' social media accounts, STAT found promotional posts about drugs or medical devices across all specialties, but no evidence that any of the physicians involved actively sought to deceive patients. There's evidence that social media can improve the patient experience through expanded communication, as FiercePracticeManagement has previously noted, but use of the channel can have unintended negative consequences for practices that fail to establish appropriate safeguards.

Concerns about public disclosure have already led to legislation requiring drug and medical device manufacturers to report payments they make to doctors, data which are currently provided to the public by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The article also notes that medical journals routinely require their authors to disclose any payments they have received that could result in a conflict of interest.

Doctors interviewed by STAT disagreed such disclosures have actual value to patients, with one prolific Twitter user, James A. Simon, M.D., arguing that "disclosure is primarily about transparency and honesty, and not about relationships." Simon goes on to suggest that such bureaucratic requirements actually get in the way of the free flow of information between pharmaceutical companies, clinicians and patients.

To date, the only action taken to mandate conflict-of-interest disclosures on social media has come from the Massachusetts Medical Society, which requires its members to disclose financial relationships connected to products, procedures or services they discuss online, according to the article. The group's concern rests on an uneasiness with doctors who go online and endorse products in which they have a financial interest. While emphasizing that there's nothing inherently wrong with the practice, "it just needs to be transparent," Lloyd Fisher, M.D., who assisted in the guidelines' development, told the publication.

To learn more:
- read the STAT report