Thursday, February 20, 2014

Karisa King and Jodi Cohen at the Chicago Tribune have published an excellent story about how some doctors and admininstrators decided to use the name and reputation of the University of Illinois in support of a medical device company.  With access to internal emails, it becomes clear that an explicit decision was made to do so by very high-ranking officials:

Benedetti, the head of surgery, sought advice and permission from Jerry Bauman, interim vice president for health affairs, and Dr. Dimitri Azar, dean of the College of Medicine, according to an Oct. 23 email obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

"On one side it would be a lot of free publicity for our program, on the other side we could be criticized to be included in an industry generated campaign," Benedetti wrote. The two responded separately that the visibility would be good for the program.

Others apparently had doubts:

After receiving a Jan. 10 email from Benedetti, in which he forwarded the group picture and congratulated the team for the "important recognition," Dr. Bernard Pygon forwarded the email to a colleague and wrote: "Interesting that he calls this recognition — it's an ad for a for profit company."

On the financial front:

The Tribune also found that some doctors pictured in the ad did not initially disclose their financial ties to the company that makes the robot, Intuitive Surgical Inc., as required by the university's policies on conflicts of interest.

But it appears that the lessons have yet to be learned.  Without regard to the facts that might arise from an ongoing investigation of these matters, and without regard to the lack of scientific evidence in support of a statement about medical outcomes, the University does not hesitate in drawing premature conclusions:

Hardy, the university spokesman, said participating in the ad was "a good faith effort" to promote expertise that has "demonstrably beneficial outcomes for patients," but the execution was perhaps not well thought-out.

"In hindsight, the effort could have been better, or perhaps should not have been undertaken at all," Hardy said. "Although the ad may not have violated policy, a decision was made immediately to pull it and to conduct a review of the circumstances involved with the aim of correcting any mistakes that might have occurred."


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