- Leaders of 10 influential medical associations in the U.S. have extensive financial ties to pharmaceutical and medical device makers, according to a study published Wednesday in BMJ. Researchers examined publicly reported payments to leaders in the years leading up to a board appointment, during and one year after.
- Overall, 80% of leaders across the 10 organizations had received some type of payment from industry totaling nearly $130 million before, during and after their board membership. No organization had a leader free of financial ties, according to the study, though the size of median payment varied greatly between organizations, ranging from just $212 to $518,000.
- Leaders of the North American Spine Society received the most in "general payments" — more than $9.5 million — which are payments for travel, food, beverages or other items, while the leaders of American Society of Clinical Oncology received the most in research payments, totaling more than $54 million.
There has been growing concern about physician ties to industry and whether these types of payments can ultimately sway a doctor's behavior in treating patients.
Even a single, inexpensive meal could influence a doctor's prescribing habits, according to a previous report in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Although, this study didn't examine whether these payments ultimately influence the organization's work, it sets out to quantify the financial ties leaders of the nation's most influential medical associations have with pharmaceutical companies and device makers.
The report urges others to be highly skeptical of assertions that organizations are free from influence.
"As evidence on the extent of their ties grows, nothing should compel acceptance of their claims of independence or integrity," according to the report.
More research is "urgently needed" to measure whether these payments shape the agenda or work of medical associations, authors said.
Given that some of the associations received so little in payments, it's possible for leaders of organizations to quit accepting them, the study said.
For example, leaders from the American Psychiatric Association received a median of $212 in payments while leaders from the American Society of Clinical Oncology raked in median payments of $518,000.
"Our study’s novel findings of enormous variation in the extent of these ties suggest that for some groups such independence will require time and major reform, whereas for others it will be quick and relatively easy."