Thursday, March 22, 2012


The March issue of the AMWA Journal has hit the street—well, the online street anyway--and should reach your mailbox soon. You can read the issue online at the AMWA Web site. The theme of the issue is ethics, which is the number-one concern of AMWA members, according to the most recent member survey. Ask anyone in AMWA what the most important ethical issue is and you're most likely to hear "ghostwriting," a term AMWA avoids in favor of "acknowledgment of medical writers." Although acknowledgment is an important issue, ethical issues abound in our profession, and all deserve attention. That attention is given in the March issue, with the contents addressing a range of ethical issues in various settings, including regulatory writing, continuing medical education (CME), journal publishing, freelancing, and medical journalism.

At the center of the March issue is a feature article by Cindy Hamilton, PharmD, ELS (a name I automatically associate with medical writing ethics), "The RIGHT Way to Avoid Doing Wrong: A Multistep Model for Making Ethical Decisions." The article focuses on the RIGHT model, developed by the leaders of AMWA ethics workshops, and Cindy demonstrates practical application of each of the five steps in the model with use of a case report. A reprint of the AMWA Code of Ethics accompanies the article. Most AMWA members (84%) are familiar with the Code, but that means 16% are not. Don't be in the minority—review the Code to know your ethical responsibilities as a medical writer. You should also be familiar with AMWA's Position Statement on the Contribution of Medical Writers to Scientific Publications.

In the regulatory industry, the Good Clinical Practice (GCP) guidelines outline patients' rights and the obligations of investigators and sponsors when conducting research on humans. The GCP guidelines are discussed in the Regulatory Insights section of the March issue. Medical writers involved in writing the results of medical research, for either peer-reviewed journals or presentation at scientific meetings, should follow the guidelines set forth in Good Publication Practices 2 (GPP2).

In the CME world, the most-debated ethical issue is industry sponsorship of CME activities. The March issue features a point-counterpoint on this issue in the CME Rising section.

Medical journal editors face many ethical situations, such as suspected plagiarism, fabrication of data, undisclosed conflict of interest, and duplicate publication. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), which was established to provide support and guidance for dealing with these issues, is profiled in the March issue. COPE offers several resources on its Web site, including flowcharts for handling several types of misconduct. A complement to the COPE profile is a podcast interview with Liz Wager, the chair of COPE. The AMWA Journal is excited to add podcasts as another medium to bring news and information to Journal readers. Look for more podcasts this year.

Working alone, without the advantage of company guidelines on ethics, freelances must rely on their own instincts about ethical dilemmas. The veteran freelances who comprise the Freelance Forum panel provide important guidance as they answer four questions about dealing with ethical situations. In answer to the first question, "When is it time to run away from a client who is not behaving ethically?" several panelists give their accounts of when they knew it was time to flee. Perhaps more important, panelists emphasized the need to first determine if the client recognizes his or her behavior as unethical and to educate the client on ethical practices.

The high prevalence of flaws in media coverage of medical research is well-documented, and the Top 10 lists the criteria that Gary Schwitzer, a leading authority on health care coverage in the media, uses to review and grade health news reporting on his Web site, Health News Review. (Media coverage of medical research is such a fascinating topic for me that I plan to discuss it in a separate blog post, so be on the lookout.) Elsewhere in the March issue, the Social Media section addresses privacy issues, ethics-related blogs, and recent discussions of ethical issues on the AMWA LinkedIn group.

The March issue also announces the availability of two ethics-related publications. One is the Essential Ethics for Medical Communicators self-study module, which can be purchased through the AMWA Web site. The other publication is one volume of the new AMWA Journal Collections series, Authorship and Acknowledgment, which features articles originally published in the Journal. (Upholding my own ethics, I must acknowledge that the Collections series is published by an arm of my own business, with a profit-sharing arrangement with AMWA.)

The theme of the March issue reflects AMWA's commitment to ethics as a high priority. Further evidence is found in AMWA's requirement of an ethics workshop as part of an AMWA educational certificate. Two new ethics workshops—one in the area of business and one in science and medicine—will debut at the 2012 AMWA Annual Conference in Sacramento, bringing the total number of ethics workshops to six. There is an ethics workshop for everyone!

Make ethics your priority, and learn more about the ethical issues facing medical writers in all settings.