Doctors Promoting Treatments on Social Media Routinely Fail to Disclose Ties to Drug Makers

Sheila Kaplan | STAT | February 29, 2016

Physicians across the United States routinely offer medical advice on social media — but often fail to mention that they have accepted tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars from the companies that make the prescription drugs they tout. A STAT examination of hundreds of social media accounts shows that health care professionals virtually never note their conflicts of interest, some of them significant, when promoting drugs or medical devices on sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The practice cuts across all specialties.

There is no evidence any of these doctors meant to deceive or mislead patients. And they were not legally obligated to disclose payments from drug companies in their social media posts. But the growing use of social media by medical professionals raises serious ethical questions — and makes it impossible for patients or other doctors to know whether a physician’s enthusiasm or disdain for any particular drug may have been influenced by payments from the pharmaceutical industry.

The ties between doctors and private industry have come under scrutiny in recent years. Under legislation passed in 2010, drug and medical device companies are required to report payments to doctors for promotion, consulting, and other services. The information is collected by the federal Department of Health and Human Services and posted in a public database. Most medical journals now also require researchers who submit articles to disclose payments they have received from the industry. But social media is a new frontier...