The Enterprise Risk from Dubious or Unethically Conducted Research to Population Health Management Companies & Ten Options That a Board of Directors Should Consider to Mitigate that Risk

by Jaan Sidorov

First posted on the Disease Management Care Blog on 02/20/2013

Jaan Sidorov, host of Disease Management Care Blog
To:        Chair of the Board, Any Population Health Management Service Provider Company
From:    The Disease Management Care Blog
Priority: High
Date:     Feb. 20, 2013
Re:       Implications  of “Research” for your company’s “Enterprise Risk Management”


Thanks to the 2004 Congressional Budget Office analysis and similar reports questioning the value of “disease management,” our industry responded with more than just a name change to “population health management.” It also committed itself to conducting credible research and being subjected to the scrutiny of public domain, transparent and high quality peer review. Examples like this and thisare, in no small measure, responsible for our industry’s growing credibility. Not bad, considering critics like this predicted a lack of quality and cost-savings evidence would result in the industry’s becoming “just one more policy failure.”Unfortunately, however, what your senior management team isnot telling you is that public domain, published or peer-reviewed research is highly vulnerable to data manipulation, conflicts of interest, skewed results, suppression of negative results and spin.  The blowback from bad research can be considerable and the misconduct can result in embarrassing and highly public retractions.  The pharmaceutical industry has become the poster child for this sort of bad behavior, resulting not only in considerable fines but long term reputational damage.  It will take years to repair.

To date, the Disease Management Care Blog is unaware of any research bad behavior in the population health management vendor community.  However, given the premium placed by purchasers on demonstrable proof of a product’s superiority, a highly competitive environment and the hunger of marketing departments for scientifically validated value propositions, the DMCB suspects it’s just a matter of time.

As you know, a Board’s commitment to Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) should not be underestimated. If your company is conducting research that is a) destined for the public domain and b) being used as any part of any marketing strategy, the temptation to “fudge” results is no less than “cooking” financial results.  Undoubtedly, your Audit Committee, in its duty to ultimately oversee ERM, rigorously oversees regular audits of internal financial controls and reports.

Given the reputational risk to your company, the same discipline should be applied to your research shop.  This should not only include research publications, but outcomes reported in public meetings, “webinars” or in “white papers” that are distributed outside the company or posted with public access on your or any business associates’ website.

The DMCB is not aware of a standard best practice when it comes to a Board’s monitoring the veracity of its management’s research. Furthermore, every company is different and leeway is acceptable.  This calls for both vigilance and flexibility.

Options to consider in mitigating the risk of dubious research include:

1) assuring two persons with separate reporting relationships have access to the original data,

2) requiring that at least two persons are independently involved in the data analysis,

3) becoming familiar with the regulatory requirements that surroundany research involving human subjects

4) asking that any important findings be reviewed or validated by an internal or external third party with 1) an appropriate level of expertise and 2) no conflicts of interest;

5) reviewing whether any employee compensation incentives are unwittingly promoting unethical research behavior,

6) charging that the company “risk officer” is charged with responsibility for research,

7) assuring that “research integrity” is regularly reviewed by your Board of Directors

8) fostering healthy Board skepticism when there are outcome results that are too good to be true,

9) requiring that senior management and, in particular, the CEO are committed to and are championing the highest standards of research conduct.

10) having a proactive public relations “disaster plan” in place should any company research be called into question in the media

Jaan Sidorov MD is the Host of the Disease Management Care Blog where he shares his knowledge and insights about medical home, disease management, population-based health care and managed care. He is a primary care internist and former Medical Director at Geisinger Health Plan with over 20 years experience in primary care, disease management and population-based care coordination. He is primary care by training, managed care by experience and population-based care strategies by disposition. The contents of his blog reflect only his opinions and should not be interpreted to have anything to do with any current or past employers, clients, customers, friends, acquaintances or enemies, personal, professional, foreign or domestic.