Cardiologists’ $10k fees from industry raise concerns over conflict of interest

Undisclosed pharmaceutical industry ties are common among cardiology ‘key opinion leaders’ who hold leadership positions in professional medical organisations, an Australian study has found.

Industry fees averaging $9892; (range $2070–$21,957) were made to 14 of 34 specialists who held positions with cardiology associations between 205 and 2018, according to an analysis by Sydney University researchers.

However the analysis of payments made to 197 specialists from 10 professional associations found that only one organisation (diabetes) disclosed payments on its website and few of the specialists provided complete conflict of interest statements.

Overall, 40% of medical leaders within cardiology organisations received pharmaceutical  industry payments, predominantly for roles as supported speakers  and advisory board engagements.

The reported payments to cardiologists, obtained from data held by Medicines Australia, were likely to be an underestimate because they covered only pharma companies and not other medical device companies, the researchers said. They also noted that cardiologist payments were more than double the value of those given to doctors in general medical groups, which averaged $5485. BY way of comparison, endocrinology professional association opinion leaders received an average of $10,702 in industry payments over the same period.

“The difference between GPs and other specialists may reflect the relative return for investment for pharmaceutical companies in increasing sales,” the researchers said.

“Payments to endocrinologists and cardiologists have been associated with greater increases in prescribing of marketed diabetes and cardiovascular medicines than payments to other specialties,” they wrote in the Australian Journal of General Practice.

Leaders of cardiology groups accounted for $193,520 of the $932,270 payments to members of 10 professional medical associations analysed over the three year period.

The findings raise concerns about industry influence on clinical practice and policy, said the authors led by Professor Lisa Bero (PhD) and Dr Emily Karanges (PhD) of the Charles Perkins Centre, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney.

“Medical organisations and their leadership have a responsibility to ensure conflicts of interests are disclosed, minimised and managed responsibly,” they wrote.

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