The 7th European Healthcare Fraud & Corruption Network conference took place in Brussels at the end of September and featured high level speakers and experts. The event proved to be an ideal platform for discussing a number of topics of relevance to all the stakeholders in the healthcare system.
The “Conflicts of Interest” session was very interesting, seeing as how much we, Eucomed and its members, have been investing in creating and developing an ethical culture of integrity and ethical business practices across the medical technology industry. Only then will we be able to manage the inherent conflicts of interest that exist in the relationship between the industry and the healthcare professionals.
The discussion centred around four areas where conflicts of interest could arise:
- Research, trials and publications;
- The bias in decision making (developing in particular the case study of the H1N1 influenza decision by the WHO);
- Training and education of healthcare professionals;
The panel spent quite some time discussing how, in some of these areas, different stakeholders in the healthcare system are biased towards the industry (mostly focused on the pharma industry).
A seat at the table
Let’s apply one point of the discussion – research, trials and publications – to a recent publication that everyone is currently talking about and which reports that industry sponsored studies are more likely to have outcomes favouring the sponsor compared to studies not sponsored by industry presents several other conclusions which, for some reason, are not so widely quoted. The publication states, for instance, that industry funded research is less likely to be published compared to publications funded by other means. What I would like to illustrate by this is that everyone is biased and certainly not always towards industry. Everyone should, however, have the same opportunities to at least become part of the discussion. As long as all potential biases (not only those from industry) have been meticulously identified, publications should be evaluated and discussed on objective criteria such as methodologies, findings and conclusions.
As mentioned by one of the speakers, conflicts of interest are here to stay, in particular industry-related ones. Ask yourself this, though: aren’t these conflicts of interest so omnipresent because the industry’s economic value plays such an important socio-economic role?
I read an article in the newspaper today which talked about Adam Smith and his view that a healthy, profitable and innovative trade [industry] is the source of the wealth of nations. According to Smith, this doesn’t mean that one has to admire the merchants.
But I agree with the panel that transparency is not sufficient when dealing with conflicts of interest. This is why we have our Code of Ethical Business Practice, which relies on four principles: transparency, separation, equivalence and documentation.
– Aline Lautenberg, Legal Counsel Eucomed