Medical ghost-writing influences doctors to prescribe more drugs

Recently, a former staff medical writer at a MECC (Medical Education Communication Company) anonymously alerted me to a particularly sleazy advertising tactic used by a medical writing company. This person had worked as a pharma-supported medical writer for several years, but recently quit because, “I really couldn’t stomach the ethical problems associated with writing for the pharma industry.” Recently, looking for medical writing jobs, this writer came across a company called “Emron–” no, not Enron, although the ethical standards of the sound-alike companies appear to be similar.

Here is how Emron advertises its writing services to the pharmaceutical industry:

When you’re looking to compete on quality, set your sights on Emron for top-flight health care marketing communications and brand management. We drive sales, access and reimbursement in competitive markets: our clients achieve sustained competitive advantage by creating product demand and reducing price-sensitivity.

Now, if Emron were simply an advertising company, I would have no problem with this. Ad copy writers specialize in the craft of helping companies gain market share. As a newsletter publisher, I appreciate the magic of good marketing copy when I am periodically forced to send out those annoying promotional mailers that most people toss into recycling.

But Emron does much more than advertising. It produces accredited CME programs in order to help their clients “achieve sustained competitive advantage.” As the medical writer pointed out to me, the worst part of Emron’s statement is the phrase “reducing price sensitivity.” With healthcare costs being foremost in the nations’ consciousness right now, this attitude is unconscionable. Emron is saying to pharmaceutical companies “To heck with healthcare costs! The pharmaceutical industry should not do anything to compromise their profit margins. And we will offer you our professional staff of writers (for a hefty fee) to write your CME so that doctors will prescribe more of the most expensive drugs.”

One example of Emron’s work is the The Contraception Report, a Wyeth-funded newsletter whose underlying purpose is to get doctors interested in Wyeth’s latest birth control products. That newsletter has expanded into a website called Contraception Online, which is also entirely funded by Wyeth, and which also provides advertising dressed up as CME. This site is shamefully produced by Baylor College of Medicine; I don’t know what part Emron still plays in it, as the website does a good job of making this opaque.

Recently, Murray Kopelow provided testimony in which he assured the Senate Special Committee on Aging that ACCME is the firewall between education and promotion. Emron’s toll-free number is 800-367-6613. I suggest Dr. Kopelow give them a call to help them build a better firewall.

Daniel Carlat is a psychiatrist who blogs at The Carlat Psychiatry Blog.

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