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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Consumer group criticizes hospital chief's blog

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-advocacy group in Washington, D.C., took Boston hospital president Paul Levy to task this week over a recent posting on his popular blog, Running a Hospital. Levy, chief executive of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, wrote on July 8 about a potential new treatment for asthma that uses catheter-delivered heat to reduce bronchial muscle spasms, which he said could be a huge development in treatment of the disease.

The center criticized Levy on its website, http://www.cspinet.org/integrity/watch/200707161.html, saying he had not disclosed that Beth Israel Deaconess is a clinical trial site for the treatment and a consultant to the company that makes the device, Asthmatx Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.

"The blogosphere operates without rules, even when the blogger runs one of the nation's leading teaching hospitals," the center wrote.

It's not that simple, however. Beth Israel Deaconess is not a clinical trial site, having decided not to participate when its data coordinator left, and it referred all patients it recruited to Brigham and Women's Hospital. The hospital received about $21,500 from the company for study administration and patient screening costs, according to the company. Dr. Armin Ernst, who was to be the principal investigator, was paid $1,500 in fees and expenses for speaking at an Asthmatx symposium in May 2006.

Levy said he did not know about any of this background when he wrote his blog item, but he said he agrees with the general principle raised by the center -- and yesterday he amended his July 8 blog entry.

"It has come to my attention that BIDMC has had commercial relationships with the company engaged in these trials. I was not aware of this before today, and I apologize for not mentioning it in my original post," he wrote. "I will consult with the BIDMC contracts office from now on before discussing new therapies and devices on this blog."

In an e-mail, he told the Globe, "The CSPI is exactly right that bloggers should disclose commercial relationships on items like this. I appreciate their bringing it up as an issue and will make sure to be more careful about it in the future."

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