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Doctors' drug-industry ties made public

Screen capture from Dr. Mercedes Dullum's page on the Cleveland Clinic website.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Drug companies spend a lot of time and money trying to convince doctors to prescribe their products. That's not, in and of itself, a problem. It's called marketing.

When there's a personal financial relationship, that's another question. A physician's endorsement can help turn a pill into a blockbuster. But what if it's at the expense of some kind of alternative treatment and the patient never knows about the relationship.

Today The Cleveland Clinic announced it's going to disclose its doctors' ties to the drug industry -- upfront -- on its website.

Janet Babin reports from the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio.


JANET BABIN: In the "Find a doctor" section of the Cleveland Clinic's website, Dr. Mercedes Dullum is listed as a cardiac surgeon. I can review her photo, bio, and now, find out that she has a partnership with a medical device company called Cormatrix.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, says the Cleveland Clinic's Guy Chisolm:

Guy Chisolm: Partnerships with industry are not evil, and they're not all bad and they're not all prejudicial. But you want to do these partnerships ethically, and you want to do them where you eliminate bias.

Bias issues between doctors and the drug industry have come to a head this year. A congressional inquiry found that some physicians were making millions reviewing drug trials. They failed to reveal that they were being paid by the drug companies.

But T Rowe Price analyst Jay Markowitz says it is possible to get paid and still be objective.

Jay Markowitz: I don't view the kind of payment for time and services as a bribe to lie about the risks and benefits of a treatment.

Still, studies have shown that company-sponsored research is more likely to produce positive results.

David Hamilton at B-Net.com says it's just human nature.

David Hamilton: If somebody gives you a lot of money, even if it's to support your research, even if you're not benefiting personally from it, you start thinking of them more as, you know, friends than as people you're doing business with.

Disclosure may be the first step in treating medical conflicts of interest.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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