Problems of Ghost Writing in the Medical Industry
The New York Times had a fabulous article on ghostwriters whom influence medical literature. For those who do not know what ghostwriters are, they are essentially people who write under a made-up name to give credited to another person or entity (e.g. business).
Ghostwriting, also known as having a pen name, has been a common literary technique throughout the ages. There are a variety of reasons why ghostwriting occurs, such as the concealment of identity to protect the true author’s identity, to carry on a literary legacy, or to make the author seem like he or she is something they are really not.
The later of these examples can be more serious in the medical industry since life literally hangs in the balance. The benefit of ghostwriting is the concealment of identity, such as a doctor who writes under a false name in order to expose the truth about malpractice at a clinic and to preserve their reputation.
However, doctors rely on unbiased and accurate medical & research information. If they read an article that is essentially a paid endorsement of a product without knowing that it is biased (specifically emphasizing the benefits and leaving out the side effects), they could very likely make poor decisions in the future with patient care that they would otherwise not make, especially if they did not know that the article was slanted in favor of the company who paid for the article to be written.
In the case of Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company that produces Premarin and Prempro, hormone replacement drugs, the company paid a medical communications firm to write favorable review articles which appeared in 18 professional medical journals. The articles were given credit to top physicians who contributed little to nothing in the article (this raises several ethical questions by itself).
Is this a problem? You bet! Court document suggest that this practice of ghostwriting in the medical industry is wide spread.
“It’s almost like steroids and baseball,” said Dr. Joseph S. Ross, an assistant professor of geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who has conducted research on ghostwriting. “You don’t know who was using and who wasn’t; you don’t know which articles are tainted and which aren’t.”
Read the original NY Times article.