Jerry-Rigging of the Academic Detail

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  • 06/13/2013

Dr. Jerry Avorn (in his one-sided and self-congratulatory New York Times op-ed) misses a crucial piece of the argument on academic detailing – fairness.

Government detailing programs aren’t neutral. Just like detailing programs run by pharmaceutical companies, there is an inherent "interest."

According to the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) the government’s top priority is ‘‘high volume’’ practices across 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas. So, rather than focusing on offices with disproportionately high negative patient outcomes, the government is directing its efforts against those doctors who are high prescribers—which is a pretty good indicator about what government detailing is all about—decreasing cost rather than improving care.

When AHRQ’s ‘‘outreach experts’’ phone physicians to request appointments, they are allowed to entice physicians with the promise of free Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits. Would a pharmaceutical company be permitted to offer such an enticement? No.

Government-funded detailers must be held to the same high standards as industry representatives. This simple step would ensure providers are receiving accurate, unbiased information on the best treatment options available to improve patient care. When it comes to academic detailing, fairness is the proper yardstick. The general lack of rules or oversight stands in stark contrast to the extreme scrutiny with which industry “detailers” are subject in their interactions with physicians.

In Utah, the recently passed Information on Pharmaceutical Products Act makes the common sense point that without public scrutiny there is no guarantee that government-sponsored detailing will present information that is unbiased, peer-reviewed, and aligned with the existing evidence base. Bravo. Without clear guidelines, there is nothing to prevent government detailers from using their outreach to advocate for lower costs instead of educating for better care.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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