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The Validity of Polls

August 24, 2010
6:45 pm

Consumer Reports made some small waves today by releasing its own survey concerning prescription medications and the influence the pharmaceutical industry has over physicians.  According to Consumer Reports, a whopping 69 percent of the American public believes “drugmakers have too much influence on doctors’ decisions about which drug to prescribe.”  (quoting from Consumer Reports health blog). 

This assertion raises a plethora of questions about the Consumer Reports poll itself and how this particular survey question was asked.  This isn’t really an “opinion” type of question along the lines of “which candidate do you think has better positions on the economy” or “which soft drink has better flavor?”  For the consumers being asked this question, either their physicians are being influenced by pharmaceutical companies or they’re not.

So we know what Consumer Reports said about the opinion of those they surveyed.  But here’s what we don’t know:

·         How the question was phrased.

·         Whether consumers were asked if they had any firsthand knowledge of their physician being influenced to prescribe a certain medication.

·         Whether consumers were asked if they ever discussed this issue with their physician.

·         Whether consumers are aware of the pharmaceutical industry’s and medical profession’s own ethical guidelines on the topic of gifts to physicians.

Organizations have carte blanche to report whatever they want when they discuss the results of their self-created surveys.  Let’s hope, though, that journalists, bloggers and others who report on polls like this one dig a little deeper to find out if there’s actual substantive meaning behind the numbers.

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