Monday, January 11, 2016

How to do a bad medical research study

I just read an  Times of India article on the incidence of miscarriages in India, based on a "research study" published in the Journal of Ob/GYN of India.

This is a classic example of a completely pointless study , which was distorted in order to leave a completely wrong impression in the minds of Indian women, and create a lot of unnecessary fear and anxiety.

The study was only a report of information collected by a group of gynecologists across India. It was sponsored by a pharma company, which got gynecologists to ask their patients who had had a miscarriage in the past to fill in a form which asked a few specific questions about their medical history  .

The study did not provide any new information or reveal any new insights. The hidden agenda of the pharmaceutical company was to keep KOLs ( key opinion leaders ) happy, by reimbursing them for their effort in doing this"  research ".  Gynecologists are very happy to participate in such research studies, because they don't have to do anything other than take a history - something which they do routinely all the time . It's great to get paid for doing nothing -  and it's a great ego boost, because the doctor's name now appears as an author of a published research study in a " leading " medical
journal !

Doctors are happy because they were selected by a leading multinational pharma company to perform research - something which every clinician wants to do, because doing research is the ultimate dream of doctors who think of themselves as being scientists. Since they can't do any original research on their own, they're happy to participate in these kind of research studies. Even better, they get paid for their "research" !

The research was a complete sham. It didn't provide any useful information and should never have been accepted for publication. However, it seems that Indian journals have pretty low standards - especially when the pharma company who sponsored the study is also an advertiser who pays for full page ads in the journal - we know that the piper who has the money can select the tunes !

The " researcher" ( who works for a pharma company and is an author of the paper) then  collected and  compiled this data; and jazzed it up to create lots of pointless tables and figures ; and then got an Indian journal editor to publish it.

To add insult to injury, the PR company for this company wanted to make sure it would get more publicity for this study, which it never would if it were printed in an Indian medical journal. They decided to put a spin on the story , distort it even further, and then got a leading newspaper in India to cover it. Sadly, medical journalists in India don't have enough technical expertise to separate the wheat from the chaff. The reporter uncritically accepted the study's results because they were published in a medical journal, and reported the published findings. The headline writer made the problem even worse by adding a completely misleading headline ! It was very catchy, and this served her purpose because it got people to read the story, but it actually left them with a completely wrong impression. These are the kind of poor quality medical research studies which give the medical profession , pharma , and medical reporters a bad name.

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