Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Secrecy and Censorship

On June 6 I wrote a post entitled "Secrecy," and concluded "we should cultivate transparency and openness in health care. It is hard to conceive of legitimate reasons to keep hospitals' prices, contracts between medical schools and research sponsors, and contracts between doctors and managed care organizations secret. On the other hand, it is easy to think of how such secrecy could hide unethical business practices, and potentially even abuse of patients and corruption.It is time to end this secrecy. "
Since then, in the last 16 days, the following stories about secrecy have appeared on Health Care Renewal:
  • Louis Sherwood, A top Merck executive, now retired was accused of trying to intimidate physicians and researchers who had publicly questioned the safety of Merck's Cox-2 inhibitor Vioxx, now withdrawn from the market, or whether data about Vioxx was being withheld. (See post here.)
  • A Pfizer executive who had spoken out publicly in favor of drug re-importation charged that the company shut down his cell phone and email. (See post here.)
  • After Guidant found out that one of its models of implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) had a defect that may cause them to fail, it kept the flaws a secret until the company found out that the NY Times was writing an article about the problem. (See post here.) It similarly concealed flaws in two other models of ICDs. Finally, it shippped old ICDs with the inventory out of inventory without notifying their recipients that the company had started making improved version without the flaw. (See posts here and here.)
  • CIGNA threatened a physician author with legal action because he published a satirical piece in a humor magazine. The threat was based on a provision in CIGNA's contract with the physician's hospital that forbade "disparaging" language. (See post here.)
  • Kaiser-Permanente sued a former employee for revealing in a blog that the managed care organization had posted real patient data on a web-site being used to develop an electronic medical record. (See post here.)
  • Eli Lilly filed one of its sales representatives after he published a book detailing his exploits prior to working for Lilly as a "slacker" sales representative for Pfizer. (See post here.)
These posts demonstrate that the urge to censor seems to be widespread in health care. The would-be censors noted above included pharmaceutical companies, a device company, a for-profit managed care organization, and a not-for-profit managed care organization. They sought to censor expression critical of their products and practices ranging from outcomes data, through academic and popular opinion, to satire. Their means of censorship ranged from simply keeping information to themselves, to threats, threats of law-suits, and law-suits filed.
These 16 days demonstrated the continuing threats against transparency and openness in health care. They also demonstrate that many threats come from leaders of large health care organizations who don't like information that puts them in a bad light made public. Yet how will we improve health care without access to information about what is going wrong, and opinions about what do to improve things?


Abby said...

Unless you had a market set up, sort of like an exchange, where people could bid on these things, publishing the rates might run afoul of antitrust regulations,

Anonymous said...

Secrecy and censorship it deliberately initiated due to damage it can do to those in such a conspiracy, such as with thier image or the legality of whatever deal that may be constructed.