Charting the financial conflicts of doctors on Twitter

A detailed look at the tweeting habits of more than 600 hematologist-oncologists found that 72 percent were recipients of industry money for consulting, travel, lodging, or food and beverage. It’s raising questions about physicians’ duty to report conflict of interest when using social media.

Dr. Vinay Prasad, M.D., M.P.H. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

“As a minimum standard, physicians who are active on Twitter should disclose financial conflicts of interest in their five-line profile biography, possibly with a link to a more complete disclosure,” concluded Vinay Prasad, M.D., M.P.H., and co-authors, all at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. They published their research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine. Prasad got the idea to do the study after a “vicious debate”  with fellow oncologists on Twitter last year, he said in an interview with the magazine Modern Healthcare:

He had been tweeting that oncologists needed to speak up when cancer drugs cost too much, and five physicians responded that it was not his place to comment. Six others defended him.

“It got to be such a nasty debate that I looked up all 11 people in the conflict of interest database,” Prasad said. “I found that of the five people (who said oncologists should not comment on costs) … the median conflict was $64,000.”

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Financial Conflicts of Interest Among Hematologist-Oncologists on Twitter by Derrick L. Tao, Aaron Boothby, Joel McLouth and Vinay Prasad, JAMA Internal Medicine, January 2017