Affronted by Effrontery?

A recent article in the American Journal of Cardiology attempted to shed some light on the issue of physician/patient communication regarding the condition of mixed dyslipidemia. The study found that, perhaps not surprisingly, physicians tended to dominate the conversations, and only a small percentage of the time addressed disease education.

You might think this was the key takeaway from this article, but it seems like all of the attention has focused on another aspect of the study: it only mentions one therapeutic product by name and notably omits other potential treatment options. This has led to the seemingly obligatory discussion about the influence of drug marketers on scientific studies and the lack of objectivity by physicians associated with the company. Fair enough – you can clearly see who stands to benefit from this study – but let’s try to put things in perspective.

Yes, a pharma company sponsored the studies. They are often willing to invest in the kind of observational research that leads to these conclusions and that usually provide valuable marketing insights. The authors could have provided stronger balance regarding available therapies, but those also weren’t the primary focus of the study.

Also, let’s give the physician audience a little credit. It’s not unreasonable to assume that most physicians are reasonably adept at interpreting studies and assessing their limitations. Plus, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to be swayed with just one data point to consider. Others, however, feel more strongly about this being an insidious assault by the evil drug marketers.

But consider some of the positive aspects of this study and subsequent discussion. It certainly adds to the body of knowledge about the conversations that occur between physicians and patients, an area worthy of further exploration. Also, regardless of what they think of the conclusions, by reading this article perhaps some physicians will become just a little more self-aware of how they communicate with their patients, an important step in changing their behavior. Finally, the well-intended efforts of others to point out limitations and correct misperceptions in the study have done a good job at raising awareness of the study and the underlying clinical needs.

So, before we put the final brick into the wall between academic purity and commercial interests, let’s make sure that we recognize that value can come from more than just statistically significant results and elegantly designed, objective studies.

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