Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More Medical Societies Supported by Industry

There were several new reports about the extent that medical societies are supported by industry.  Last week we asked whether the extent of the industrial support provided the Heart Rhythm Society made that organization appear to be more of a marketing firm than a professional society. 

Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions (SCAI)

ProPublica reported last week:
The Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) received 57 percent of its revenues in 2009 from medical device and pharmaceutical makers, according to financial information on the group's website.

Industry contributions to the society's budget covered $4.7 million of the $8.2 million it received that year.

The group's biggest funders are the companies with the biggest share of the stent market: Cordis Corp. (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), Boston Scientific, Abbott Laboratories and Medtronic.
So here is another medical society that gets more money from pharmaceutical, biotechnology and device companies than it does from its members.

The SCAI does not make obvious any relationships among its board members and officers and industry and does make publicly accessible its CEO's compensation or its recent 990 forms (see its web-site here).

National Lipid Association (NLA)

The CardioBrief blog discussed the somewhat more convoluted case of the sources of support of the National Lipid Association.

First blogger Larry Husten examined the role of industry support for the association's "clinical guidance papers" on familial hypercholesterolemia  (FH). These papers recommended extremely aggressive screening for high cholesterol, that is, starting for 9 year old children, and 2 year olds whose families' had histories of elevated cholesterol and coronary disease. The conference that came up with these ideas was supported by drug companies, per the first blog post in a three-part series:
The January 2011 NLA familial hypercholesterolemia recommendations conference was supported by unrestricted grant funding from the following companies: Abbott Laboratories, Aegerion Pharmaceuticals, Daiichi Sankyo, Genzyme, Kaneka Pharma America LLC, and Merck & Co.

Each of these companies would benefit from increased screening and treatment of FH and some, such as Keneka, Aegerion, and Genzyme have a huge portion of their future invested in FH.

The executive summary of the papers includes disclosures from all of the authors, and all the authors list industry ties, and all but two of the authors disclose multiple relationships with industry (see below). Nearly all had ties with the companies that sponsored the conference. In an interview, [chair of the expert panel Dr Anne] Goldberg, told me that 'we believe in transparency' but that, unlike organizations like the ACC and the AHA, 'we have not taken people off of committees because of any ties with industry.'

A second blog post noted that a brochure on FH published by the NLA was supported by a drug company (Genzyme) and that:
The NLA offers a multitude of CME programs, nearly all of which are  commercially supported by the pharmaceutical industry. Often the content of the programs are closely tied to the interests of the sponsor. For instance, the program on 'Lipid-Altering Drug Pharmacology and Safety' is supported by Abbott, Merck/Schering-Plough, and Reliant, all of whom manufacture popular lipid drugs.

However, in pursuit of the "transparency" promised above, Mr Husten was not able to get a clear idea of the total amount of industry support supplied to the NLA:
the NLA does not provide a detailed account of its revenue from industry, so it is impossible to say with certainty precisely how reliant it is upon industry support.

Note that the association's 2010 990 form listed revenues totaling $3,657,060, of which $1,106,091 came from meeting registration, and $216,356 from dues.  So this society received about 36% of its revenue from these traditional sources, while it received 37% from contributions and grants ($1,246,242) plus $116,750 in exhibitor fees.  (Other sources of revenue were less easy to classify.)  This suggests that the NLA does receive substantial revenue from industry.

The NLA did not list amongst its disclosures whether its board members and officers had their own financial relationships with industry.

Furthermore, the NLA seems particularly opaque about its hired executives and how much they are paid. Its 2010 990 form did not name its highest-compensated employees, nor list their compensation. Although it noted that its management was "delegated" to Compass Management & Consulting, it did not state the amount paid to Compass,  or the compensation given to any Compass employees who are effectively the NLA's highest-paid employees, nor did it list Compass as one of its most highly-paid independent contractors. Mr Husten discovered an addendum to a 2010 financial report also posted on the web that did state Compass' compensation was $662,640 in "management fees," and $326,378 for "commissions" for "fund-raising, a total of $989,018, equal to 25% of the organization's total expenses of $3,945,688.


Here are two more examples of medical societies that receive substantial revenues from companies that make products about which the societies' members may decide to prescribe or implant. In both cases, the societies' seemed to receive at least as much revenue from industry as they did  from members for dues, registration fees, and the like. Although both societies claimed to value transparency, neither disclosed the extent that society leaders and paid managers benefited from the societies' or their own relationships with industry.  So there is reason to be concerned about the extent their volunteer leaders and paid executives may benefit from the soceities' and their own personal relationships with industry.

He who pays the piper calls the tune.  So it does not appear unreasonable to ask whether these societies should be regarded as at least as beholden to their industrial funders as to their members and meeting attendees?  So should they be regarded as commercial marketing firms at least as much as professional societies?

As we said before, if medical societies have come to resemble marketing firms, is it any wonder that they have not spoken up against the commercialization of health care, even when the result has not been good for physicians' core values? But in that case, why would physicians who care about their patients and their core values want to belong and pay dues to marketing firms? Inquiring minds want to know....

Maybe physicians should only join medical societies that really act like medical societies.


Afraid said...

I guess they should be paying business taxes eh?

Anonymous said...

The American Diabetes Association lists these people in positions of responsibility:

“Larry Hausner, MBA, Chief Executive Officer

Larry Hausner joined the American Diabetes Association in 2007, bringing more than 20 years of extensive management experience in nonprofits and a strong understanding of mission-driven organizations. His focus areas include a streamlined community programs approach to ensure successful outcomes with populations at the highest risk for diabetes, and the strengthening of the Association's brand identity.

Lois A. Witkop, MBA, Senior Vice President Marketing Communications

Lois Witkop is the primary steward of the American Diabetes Association's core message and brand strategies, working with volunteers and staff to develop and implement innovative marketing and promotional strategies in support of key mission-delivery and fund-raising activities. Witkop is spearheading efforts to heighten awareness of the seriousness of the diabetes epidemic and the Association's brand to increase donations, volunteerism, and event participation.”

What this translates into is that we are going to sell the product. The ADA’s web site is mostly an ad for donations starting with a donation in the name of a Mom along with a store to purchase items to support the cause.

My real question is: what do the financials look like for their upcoming June conference in San Diego look like?

Disclosure: I have no involvement with this group nor am I a diabetic.

Steve Lucas

FH Foundation said...

This is a really good point, and good data that you bring up. Your claim is very apparent if you look at how popular healthcare and the medical societies are becoming in the marketing world. I bet a lot of the big clients to marketing firms belong to the medical world.