Pharmaceutical advertising revenue and physician organizations: how much is too much?

West J Med. 1999 Oct;171(4):234-8.


Objective: To determine if revenue generated from pharmaceutical advertisements in medical journals creates potential financial conflicts of interest for nonprofit physician organizations that own those journals.

Design: Convenience sample of six professional medical societies and their respective journals. Calculation of pharmaceutical advertising revenue generated by these journals for their respective professional medical societies.

Methods: Random selection of each journal for one month per quarter in calendar year 1996 and tabulation per edition of the average number of pharmaceutical advertising pages for each journal.

Outcome measures: Published advertising rates were used to estimate pharmaceutical advertising revenue for calendar year 1996 and compared with each organization's gross revenue and membership dues and assessments, based on Internal Revenue Service documents for the last available fiscal year (1995).

Results: Estimated pharmaceutical advertising revenue ranged from $715,000 to $18,630,000. Five organizations raised more than 10% of their gross income (range 2% to 30%) from a single journal's pharmaceutical advertising. Four organizations raised as much or more from pharmaceutical advertising as from members (range 17% to 790%).

Conclusions: Potential financial conflicts of interest arising from pharmaceutical advertisements in medical journals may be substantial. The impact on professional societies' financial independence and behavior is unknown.

MeSH terms

  • Advertising*
  • Drug Industry / economics*
  • Humans
  • Periodicals as Topic
  • Physicians*
  • Provider-Sponsored Organizations / economics*