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Friday, November 18, 2011

Health Guideline Panels Struggle with Conflicts of Interest

By Duff Wilson
The New York Times
Money and Policy

All 16 members of the United States Preventive Services Task Force were vetted to ensure they had no financial conflicts that would prohibit them from voting, according to the panel’s vice chairman, Dr. Albert L. Siu.

But three other federal panels that are quietly developing major public health guidelines on the leading causes of cardiovascular disease — hypertension, cholesterol and obesity — operate under less stringent ethics recommendations.

And one potential conflict after another has surfaced among the members, with some receiving speakers’ fees from drug companies, others consulting for pay and others doing company-financed research.
In all, about 20 of the three panels’ members, including some co-chairmen, have been advised that they should not vote on crucial issues as they prepare to issue the health guidelines next year — because they are too closely connected to industries with a keen interest in the panels’ recommendations.

Nearly a decade ago, the work of similar panels was so marred by charges of industry bias that the National Institutes of Health extensively heightened the scrutiny for individual panelists. But the decline in federal financing for medical research continued to pose problems, leaving many researchers to rely more heavily on private industry support. Specific new rules have been adopted to reduce the impact of conflicts of interest on guideline-writing panels.

But the N.I.H. groups, which meet behind closed doors, partly to avoid outside influence, had already been appointed when some of those rules were issued. Their finished work could wield a powerful influence on medical care, insurance and lifelong treatment for hypertension, obesity and cholesterol.

The entire article can be found here.