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Study on Expanding Disease Definitions in Guidelines and Expert Panel Ties to Industry

Discussion in 'Other Health News and Research' started by Nielk, Oct 15, 2013.

  1. Nielk

    Nielk

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    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001500

    Editors' Summary

    Background

    Health professionals generally base their diagnosis of physical and mental disorders among their patients on disease definitions and diagnostic thresholds that are drawn up by expert panels and published as statements or as part of clinical practice guidelines. These disease definitions and diagnostic thresholds are reviewed and updated in response to changes in disease detection methods, treatments, medical knowledge, and, in the case of mental illness, changes in cultural norms. Sometimes, the review process widens disease definitions and lowers diagnostic thresholds. Such changes can be beneficial. For example, they might ensure that life-threatening conditions are diagnosed early when they are still treatable. But the widening of disease definitions can also lead to over-diagnosis—the diagnosis of a condition in a healthy individual that will never cause any symptoms and won't lead to an early death. Over-diagnosis can unnecessarily label people as ill, harm healthy individuals by exposing them to treatments they do not need, and waste resources that could be used to treat or prevent “genuine” illness.
    Why Was This Study Done?

    In recent years, evidence for widespread financial and non-financial ties between pharmaceutical companies and the health professionals involved in writing clinical practice guidelines has increased, and concern that these links may influence professional judgments has grown. As a result, a 2011 report from the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that, whenever possible, guideline developers should not have conflicts of interest, that a minority of the panel members involved in guideline development should have conflicts of interest, and that the chairs of these panels should be free of conflicts. Much less is known, however, about the ties between industry and the health professionals involved in reviewing disease definitions and whether these ties might in some way contribute to over-diagnosis. In this cross-sectional study (an investigation that takes a snapshot of a situation at a single time point), the researchers identify panels that have recently made decisions about definitions or diagnostic thresholds for conditions that are common in the US and describe the industry ties among the panel members and the changes in disease definitions proposed by the panels.
    What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

    The researchers identified 16 publications in which expert panels proposed changes to the disease definitions and diagnostic criteria for 14 conditions that are common in the US such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and Alzheimer disease. The proposed changes widened the disease definition for ten diseases, narrowed it for one disease, and had an unclear impact for five diseases. Reasons included in the publications for changing disease definitions included new evidence of risk for people previously considered normal (pre-hypertension) and the emergence of new biomarkers, tests, or treatments (Alzheimer disease). Only six of the panels mentioned possible harms of the proposed changes and none appeared to rigorously assess the downsides of expanding definitions. Of the 15 panels involved in the publications (one panel produced two publications), 12 included members who disclosed financial ties to multiple companies. Notably, the commonest industrial ties among these panels were to companies marketing drugs for the disease being considered by that panel. On average, 75% of panel members disclosed industry ties (range 0% to 100%) to a median of seven companies each. Moreover, similar proportions of panel members disclosed industry ties in publications released before and after the 2011 IOM report.
    What Do These Findings Mean?

    These findings show that, for the conditions studied, most panels considering disease definitions and diagnostic criteria proposed changes that widened disease definitions and that financial ties with pharmaceutical companies with direct interests in the therapeutic area covered by the panel were common among panel members. Because this study does not include a comparison group, these findings do not establish a causal link between industry ties and proposals to change disease definitions. Moreover, because the study concentrates on a subset of common diseases in the US setting, the generalizability of these findings is limited. Despite these and other study limitations, these findings provide new information about the ties between industry and influential medical professionals and raise questions about the current processes of disease definition. Future research, the researchers suggest, should investigate how disease definitions change over time, how much money panel members receive from industry, and how panel proposals affect the potential market of sponsors. Finally it should aim to design new processes for reviewing disease definitions that are free from potential conflicts of interest.
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