The Rise (and Problems) of Sponsored Ghostwriting

10/01/2009 | Medical Malpractice

The Kentucky Justice Association included on September 11th in their weekly clips, information concerning a study by editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association. The study was about occurrences of ghostwriting in medical journals and the New York Times reported the findings on September 10th of this year.

According to the commentary, editors found that among authors of 630 articles, 7.8 percent acknowledged contributions to their articles by people whose names were not recognized. The study also reported ghostwriting rates of 7.9 percent in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 7.6 percent in The Lancet, 7.6 percent in the Public Library of Science Medicine (PLoS), 4.9 percent in The Annals of Internal Medicine, and 2 percent in Nature Medicine.

These findings raise a multitude of reasons for alarm including violations of academic and medical ethics, but according to researchers the main concern is that the writing of industry-sponsored authors could introduce biases. These prejudices have the ability to affect treatment decisions by doctors which ultimately could influence patient care. It seems more and more drugs come onto the market each and every day all with their own risks and benefits, but when a doctor prescribes any of these pharmaceuticals, patients believe they are doing so in their best interest.

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The problem with sponsored ghostwriting comes when the literature about a new product is skewed in any direction causing a medication to be trusted when perhaps it should not be. The New York Times has continued to follow the story and on September 17th released more findings and reported that many editors of the nation’s leading medical journals are pushing for a zero tolerance policy towards ghostwriting and are even getting help from Congress.

It is difficult for patients to know everything about every pharmaceutical company, their practices and their products and they should not be expected to. It is the doctor’s job to ensure every medication they prescribe has been tested and researched to the highest degree. However, in lieu of the current ghostwriting developments and with the access to information allowed in today’s society, patients can no longer claim complete ignorance and need to do their homework too when deciding whether a new drug is right for them.