Regarding Those Conflicts of Interest On The Government’s Guideline Panels

DrRich | November 3rd, 2011 - 1:33 pm

Podcast:

DrRich does not like to pick on the New York Times.

No, really. DrRich does not like to pick on the New York Times, because he receives two paychecks each month from the New York Times*. This fact (which has been disclosed on this blog since its inception in 2007) constitutes a clear conflict of interest, at least when it comes to writing blog posts which might criticize or satirize or mock articles that appear in that venerable publication, from which he receives a not insubstantial proportion of his livelihood.

____
*DrRich holds two positions at About.com, which is a New York Times Company. He has manged About.com’s Heart Health Center for 11 years, and also serves on About.com’s Medical Review Board.
____

Yet, regular readers will know that the New York Times has served as a regular source of material for DrRich here at the CRB, and little of what he has written in response to that material has been supportive of it. Indeed, the opposite is true.

DrRich considers it his duty to respond to the New York Times whenever it publishes an article that advances the covert rationing of American healthcare, which (through no fault of his), it does frequently. The New York Times serves as a chief voice of Progressive America, and the Progressive takeover of the healthcare system has become, since this blog was first begun, the chief driver of covert rationing. So, conflicts of interest to the contrary notwithstanding, DrRich submits to his readers that he has acted responsibly and honorably despite his unfortunate financial conflicts.

But still, he does not like to pick on the New York Times.

It is unfortunate for DrRich, then, that for the second time this week he is compelled to do so. And this time, as it happens, the subject matter has to do with conflicts of interest (a subject about which, as he has just disclosed once again, DrRich knows something).

Today, the Times writes that experts are beginning to worry that the GOD Panels (Government Operatives Deliberating) now working to devise the clinical guidelines under which American doctors will be strictly compelled, under penalty of the law, to decide which patients will get what, when and how, are tainted by members who have had ties to (gasp!) industry.

When the GOD Panels were first set up, not very long ago, it was still considered acceptable for some members to have industry ties as long as they fully disclosed those ties, and recused themselves from voting on matters specifically related to their industry work. Having at least some members with industry ties was deemed essentially unavoidable, because it was thought that deep subject-matter expertise would be desirable on these panels. Since most clinical research in America is paid for by industry, it is difficult to have deep expertise without having had at least some contact with industry.

But as the Times indicates, modern medical ethics has now advanced well past this kind of primitive thinking. Nobody with any industry ties has any business being on a panel with such overwhelming authority over the practice of American medicine.

David J. Rothman, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession, tells the Times, “Consciously or not, they may well be making decisions that fit their funders, their payers and not the patient’s best interests. If you want the public to really believe in the guidelines, why not have a committee that is conflict-free?”

And the ubiquitous Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic (a person DrRich numbers among those individuals who, by their public words and deeds, he speculates may be auditioning for the really important GOD Panels) says, “Recusing, disclosing — the reason it doesn’t work is the process involves give-and-take. Even if you don’t make a formal vote, you can still have a huge influence over what happens in the process.”

And so, while the Times does not come out and say so, it seems as if a purge of the GOD panelists may be already afoot. If not an actual purge, then at least the “conflicted” panel members are being sent a clear message, well before they take any final action. And at the very least, Ms. Sebelius is being given the cover she needs to select the people she really wants for the truly important GOD Panels which are being constructed for Obamacare.

All of this is pretty clear, and DrRich has great confidence that his readers can figure it out for themselves.

What DrRich really hopes to accomplish here is to note for posterity the great paradigm shift that has occurred in just the last two or three years, regarding the appropriate relationship between physicians and industry.

Until very recently, the American public, doctors, industry, and medical ethicists thought about that relationship in a certain way, which DrRich will call Theory A:

Theory A:

-  Medical progress is Good, and benefits mankind.
-  Industry is responsible for a high proportion of medical progress.
-  Industry-driven progress requires the active participation of physicians.
-  Therefore, a well-managed cooperation between industry and physicians is beneficial to mankind, and ought to be encouraged.

If you subscribe to Theory A you believe that, because well-managed physician-industry relationships benefit mankind, these relationships are good. So, fundamentally, it’s the management of these relationships which is at issue. These beneficial relationships produce unavoidable conflicts of interest, which we must manage by strictly limiting their extent, and fully disclosing the ones that are left.

So traditionally, the debate about conflicts of interest have been about where to draw the necessary limits.

What today’s New York Times article points out is that Theory A is no longer operative. The new thinking begins with the proposition that no amount of conflict of interest is acceptable, and ALL physician-industry ties should be prohibited. One of the most prominent advocates of this new thinking is Jerome Kassirer, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, who says, “The ideal handling of conflicts of interest is not to have them at all.” For these voices, Theory A simply does not apply. Rather, they subscribe to Theory B:

Theory B:

-    The greed of medical industry creates excessive costs, and produces far more harm to society than good.
-    Physician-industry alliances strengthen industry, and increase the harm.
-    Therefore, crippling these unholy alliances is critical to the interests of society.

Underlying Theory B, of course, is the largely unspoken and unacknowledged, but nonetheless fully-embraced, proposition that medical progress is not Good after all, but is the very thing that is driving up our healthcare costs, and so it must be stifled.

A corollary of Theory B is that not only is the Central Authority the only entity which is strong enough to cripple these unholy alliances between physicians and industry, but it is the duty of the Central Authority to do so.

Proponents of Theory B, noting, not incorrectly, that medical industry is chiefly concerned with profits rather than the public good, conclude (in a manner compatible with Progressive if not classical logic) that therefore industry will always behave in ways that are counter to the interests of society.  While many proponents of Theory B will agree that industry provides at least some benefits, they are convinced that these benefits are far outweighed by the harm they produce to the collective. Therefore, Theory B proposes to stifle, if not cripple, medical industry. And a very useful strategy for achieving this goal is to de-legitimize any practical relationships whatsoever between medical industry and physicians.

Proponents of Theory B rarely say what their real goal is. To come out and say that their goal is to cripple the companies responsible for producing medical progress would not be expedient. So most of them still give lip service to Theory A. One must discern their real motives from their behavior.

Much of that behavior, in practical terms, has to do with controlling the flow of information. Let industry develop whatever it wants (perhaps), but don’t let profit-drunk industry – or its greedy physician spokespersons – instruct doctors and patients on who ought to use industry’s products, or when and how. That kind of information can only be managed by unbiased sources.

This is the very thinking that produces the impetus for GOD Panels in the first place. Only experts who are free of industry ties and who answer only to our beneficent, unbiased, completely objective government can say which products of industry are good and bad, and can manage the flow of information about them. Information coming from anywhere else is to be regarded as being charged with bias and greed, and should be ignored, or even suppressed by whatever means are necessary.

To any reader who believes that our government is or can ever be an unbiased and honest broker, or that government officials (or GOD panelists) can cancel their own human natures when they put on a government name tag, DrRich can only wish upon you the grace of God (the old fashioned one). You’ll be needing it. To the rest of us, it is obvious that the government is desperately biased when it comes to medical progress in general, and in particular when it comes to establishing “guidelines” for the use of expensive drugs and medical devices.

For Theory B to have become the operative paradigm in America, as the New York Times today suggests it has, will assure the Central Authority that it is free to seed its GOD Panels only with members whose bias runs in their direction.

But under Theory B there is no government bias. There is only industry bias. And when we purge the GOD Panels of all industry bias, by definition we will have created perfect objectivity.

And this is why DrRich feels so comfortable continuing to write this blog despite his obvious financial conflict of interest in favor of the Times. For a conflict of interest in the direction of the Progressive agenda is no conflict at all.

6 Responses to “Regarding Those Conflicts of Interest On The Government’s Guideline Panels”

  1. Government is the ideal director of medicine. Politicians are thoughtful, caring, and altruistic. They devote their lives to helping others.

    Contrast this to physicians, who spend half their lives learning diagnosis and complex, delicate procedures, with the intent of charging sick people for these services.

  2. Andrew,

    I had never thought about it in this way. Thank you so much for this outstanding insight. It clearly explains why so many politicians are poor and must turn to lucrative lobbying contracts to simply survive, both before and after their terms of office. They are candidates for sainthood one an all, and I am glad that decisions about my family’s health will rest with them rather than the selfish types who seek to allay disease for a living.

  3. Dr. Perednia,

    I apologize. My remark was entirely sarcastic. I understand now the difficulty of trying to exaggerate current politics.

    I do believe that many people think along the line of my quip, and those people are nuts.

    • DrRich says:

      Andrew,

      I can assure you that Perednia got your sarcasm, and was responding in the same vein. But, as a frequent purveyor of sarcasm myself, I know from experience how often it’s misunderstood (which I think provides most of the fun in using it). So your apology to Dr. P will, in fact, be useful to many.

      Rich

  4. PeteStark4Prez says:

    I think that you should have mentioned greed several hundred more times, because we all know that this is the primary reason why insurance and medical costs keep rising. I look forward to the government competing with the insurance industry, which will drastically reduce medical costs, and will further medical progress, because only approved procedures that are evidence-based will be used, and cowboy medicine will no longer be allowed.

    PS All you wingnuts can keep crying about the Constitutionality of the individual mandate, but John Adams basically signed into law in 1798 the precursor to the PPACA (aka Obamacare, since that’s what YOU call it, since you’re childish and probably think Our President is a Muslim).

    PPS I am, of course, not serious, and was attempting to approximate the views of a certain someone I happen to be acquainted with – know anyone like this? I tried to get the attitude and phrases right.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply