Medical Writer Update

Keeping in Touch

Volume 1, Issue 2—November 2010


American Medical Writers Association Meeting


Just returned from the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) meeting in Milwaukee and I’m filled with renewed energy and motivation. Thought you’d all like to hear a bit from the keynote speaker, William Lanier, MD, editor-in-chief of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.


The topic was timely: Ensuring the Quality and Integrity of the Indexed Medical Literature. But rather than take the easy route of pharma bashing (which the media and certain journal editors seem to delight in) he provided a very balanced, objective discussion of the issues, focusing on the positives and negatives that pharmaceutical and medical device companies, as well as physicians and medical writers, bring to the quality of the indexed medical literature.


Let me put it this way: none of us are blameless when it comes to some of the issues we’re facing, including the “g” word—ghostwriting.  


For instance, he highlighted the benefits of industry involvement in medical research, particularly the capital, systems, and facilities that it can bring to conduct influential, high-quality research. “Many of the brightest minds in all of biomedical research are employed by or affiliated with industry,” he said. However, he also noted that competition for market share and the need to get products through evaluation and into the marketplace “can lead to shortcuts, biased research design, intentional deception, and less-than-ideal quality controls,” all of which reduce the overall quality of the medical literature.


Dr. Lanier reminded us that although pharmaceutical companies and medical communication companies have instituted new policies to protect against purely ghostwritten articles, the practice is still common. And a disclaimer is no protection against ghostwriting. Take the article he recently received. It included a disclaimer noting that editorial support was provided in drafting the outline, developing the first and later drafts, assembling figures and tables, collating the author comments, copyediting, fact checking and referencing. Finally, he asked: “What did the nominal author do?”


He’s got a point. As a medical writer and AMWA member, I adhere to the code of ethics that AMWA has developed regarding manuscript assistance. I’ve been lucky; none of my clients have ever tried to cross the line, although I did have one physician who called me and, when I explained that he would need to acknowledge my assistance on the manuscript, was never heard from again. You can read about it on my blog here.


The rest of the meeting was a blur as I served on panels related to freelancing, work/family balance, and social media; conducted breakfast roundtables on book writing and CME needs assessments; and took courses in immunology and pharmacokinetics. Whew!


American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Annual Meeting


Before I went to Milwaukee for the AMWA meeting, I was in Atlanta for the ACR meeting. This is the third year that my wonderful client has sent me to cover sessions related to lupus and write a report on the science for consumers, funders, and policy makers.


The big news, as you might imagine, was the release of data on what may become the first approved drug for lupus in more than 50 years: belimumab (which an FDA advisory committee just recommended for approval). We’re also hearing more about the role of toll-like receptors and IL-17-producing T-cells in lupus pathology. And lots of discussion about trial design for this complex disease and how that plays into the success or failure of the various clinical trials on biologics.


Happy Holidays


I’ll sign off by wishing everyone a fantastic Thanksgiving. It’s always been my favorite holiday—food, wine, friends; what could be better?  As we head into the holiday season, a word of advice from someone who has written more than her share of holiday stress articles: remember to breathe and, at least once a day, be in the moment.



From the Blog

Reflecting on HCR
in Sweden


Getting the
Word Out About Healthcare Reform



Debra Gordon, MS



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