Does industry-sponsored education foster overdiagnosis and overtreatment of depression, osteoporosis and over-active bladder syndrome? An Australian cohort study

BMJ Open. 2018 Feb 13;8(2):e019027. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019027.


Objectives: To investigate patterns of industry-sponsored educational events that focus on specific health conditions for which there are concerns about overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

Design and setting: This retrospective cohort study examines publicly reported industry-sponsored events in Australia from October 2011 to September 2015 for three conditions potentially subject to overdiagnosis and overtreatment: depression, osteoporosis and overactive bladder. We used a database of transparency reports to identify events with a focus on depression, osteoporosis and overactive bladder and compared these with other sponsored events. We hypothesised that companies marketing treatments for each condition would sponsor related events and that target audiences would mainly work in primary care, reflecting a broad patient population.

Main outcome measures: Event and attendee characteristics, sponsoring companies, related marketed treatments, cost-effectiveness ratings and dispensing rates.

Results: Over the study period, we identified 1567 events focusing on depression, 1375 on osteoporosis and 190 on overactive bladder (total n=3132, with 96 660 attendees). These events were attended by primary care doctors more often than sponsored events without a focus on these three conditions: relative risk (RR)=3.06 (95% CI 2.81 to 3.32) for depression, RR=1.48 (95% CI 1.41 to 1.55) for osteoporosis and RR=2.59 (95% CI 2.09 to 3.21) for overactive bladder. Servier, which markets agomelatine and AstraZeneca (quetiapine) sponsored 51.2% and 23.0% of depression events, respectively. Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline, which co-market denosumab, sponsored 49.5% of osteoporosis events and Astellas and Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) (mirabegron and solifenacin) sponsored 80.5% of overactive bladder events.

Conclusions: This 4-year overview of industry-sponsored events on three overdiagnosed and overtreated conditions found that primary care clinicians were often targeted, dinner was often provided and that a few companies sponsored most events. In most cases, sponsors' products are not cost-effective choices for the specified condition. This pattern highlights the need for professional education to be free of commercial sponsorship.

Keywords: health policy; musculoskeletal disorders; quality in health care; urinary incontinences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Conflict of Interest / economics*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy
  • Drug Industry / economics*
  • Health Education / economics*
  • Humans
  • Medical Overuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Osteoporosis / diagnosis
  • Osteoporosis / therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Urinary Bladder, Overactive / diagnosis
  • Urinary Bladder, Overactive / therapy