PR View by Peter Pitts

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What would happen if you booked a hotel conference room and filled it with senior FDA officials, top academics, threw in a some fashionable healthcare policy experts and spiced it up with a couple of healthcare journalists, pharmaceutical executives and patient advocates? Well, that’s precisely what the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest did in Washington, DC, on Feb. 21.

As the saying goes, “Everything you read in the newspapers is true, except for those things you know about personally.” Nowhere is that statement truer than when it is applied to journalism and healthcare policy. Consider this: Who defines what drug safety means? The FDA? Pharma companies? Congress? Patient advocates? The media? Lately, it seems as though everybody’s an expert. Even Consumer Reports, which now recommends best buys on some medications. Seriously.

What about this statement that we’ve all seen in the newspaper and in the Congressional record? “Politics is trumping science at the FDA.” But isn’t politics trumping science in Congress? What about politics trumping science in our top medical journals? What about rhetoric trumping science in media reporting? What about journalism that demands transparency from pharma, but not from other players?

Rob Pollock of the Wall Street Journal posed the question this way at the conference, “Does media coverage reflect reality and does it matter? I think quite obviously, no, it doesn’t reflect reality; and, yes, it matters a lot.”

And so a question out there for the professional practitioners of healthcare public relations: Are we part of the solution or part of the problem?

Peter J. Pitts, a former FDA associate commissioner, is director of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and SVP for Global Health Affairs at Manning Selvage & Lee

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