When Sand Gets in Your Eyes

May 07, 2013
2:06 pm

I’m pretty certain that no one has ever successfully made the case that life-changing advances in modern medicine have come as the result of physicians and researchers keeping their heads buried in the proverbial sand.

Yet, a guest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last month suggests exactly that approach.  The head of a major healthcare organization wrote that patients are at risk for “potential harm” unless physicians completely stop participating in collaborative relationships with the healthcare industry.  He added that the 7,000 physicians in the medical group he heads were banned from engaging in any consulting arrangements with pharmaceutical or medical device companies.

So this is the ideal future of American healthcare?  An environment in which the companies that make lifesaving medicines and technologies can’t communicate with the brightest doctors who will use those innovations and whose insights can make them better?

God help the patients of the future if that philosophy becomes the accepted standard.

There is a superb opinion piece published today on The Atlantic website in response to the Wall Street Journal guest op-ed.  It’s written by Dr. David Shaywitz, an adjunct scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and a strategist with a San Francisco-based biopharmaceutical company (not a Healthcare Leadership Council member company).  I recommend you read Dr. Shaywitz’s writing in its entirety, but I wanted to pull two quotes from it that are worth highlighting.  The first:

“To advance even a solid idea requires, ideally, close communication between industry and outside experts: university researchers, who often developed the science and understand it the best; practicing clinicians, who can describe where the medical needs are the greatest, and what properties an ideal therapeutic would have; and patients, of course, who understand better than anyone else what they need, and where existing approaches may fall short. We should strive to cultivate, not demonize, these sorts of interactions.”

And at the conclusion of his piece:

“Drug development is far too important, and far too difficult, for anyone to do by themselves. To have even a fighting chance, stakeholders — pharma companies, university researchers, clinicians, and patients — need to work together, and collaborate as if our future health depends upon it. It probably does.”

This is a one-sided argument.  In an environment in which chronic disease is on a path of rapid escalation, we need to constantly develop new and better technologies and biopharmaceutical therapies to advance wellness and prevent serious illness.  Talented physicians should be part of this process in a principled, transparent, independently-minded fashion – one that we’ve addressed through the National Dialogue on Healthcare Innovation.

This will do far more for patients than a head buried in sand.

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