Device Makers Pay Big Bucks to Advertise to Physicians at Heart Rhythm Society Conference

Would you pay $10,000–$45,000 to have your company's name on a coffee cup sleeve? Or $45,000–$70,000 to have your company's logo emblazoned on a hotel key card? According to an exposé-style piece by the investigative journalists at ProPublica (the story was copublished in USA Today), medical device makers plunked down that kind of serious cash for various forms of advertising and marketing at the Heart Rhythm Society conference in San Francisco.

The piece is part of an ongoing series examining the financial influence that companies exert (or try to exert) over doctors, called "Dollars for Docs." Until recently, the series had focused on drug companies, but this week's coverage of the HRS conference brought device makers under scrutiny. According to the article, last year's HRS conference drew $5 million in advertising fees, including $769,000 from Boston Scientific, $386,750 from Johnson & Johnson, $677,500 from St. Jude, and $995,400 from Medtronic. As illustrated by a nifty interactive graphic, the companies saturated the conference with advertising on things like shuttle buses ($50,000 each from Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and St. Jude), newspaper wraps ($20,000 from J&J), and turndown service ($25,000 each from Sanofi-Aventis and Boston Scientific).

The article focuses on how the amount of industry funding that goes to the society (almost half of the HRS's funding came from industry sources in 2010) might lead to a conflict of interest. A related ProPublica article says that the HRS does not mention the risks associated with implantable cardioverter defibrillators in its tip sheet for patients who might consider having the device implanted.

ProPublica also posted the HRS's response to questions about industry influence, and noted that the society has a policy requiring board members to disclose industry ties.

What do you think? Is this kind of marketing fair game? Do device companies really have undue influence over physicians? Or is all of this part of the natural collaborative relationship between societies like the HRS and industry? Do you feel like industry is being unfairly maligned?

— Thomas Blair