Monday, January 14, 2008

Public Confidence in Drug Safety: Solution is in "Plane" Sight

Active surveillance and data mining are scary, right? It is common wisdom that these tools in the hands of academics, health plans and regulators can only mean more bad publicity and product liability suits for the drug industry.

But there may be a blue sky ahead for the industry as it starts down the path to broader and more formal active surveillance efforts. The airline industry shows the way.

A front-page story in the Sunday, January 13 edition of The Washington Post shows how careful study of data on an industry's safety problems can translate somewhat counter-intuitively, into more public confidence (Post story).

The Post's Del Quentin Wilber reported very positively on the effects of data mining by individual companies into the "amazingly detailed" data collected by "small onboard memory discs." The review of safety issues and flight problems is serving to cut off major safety issues. "Outside experts and Federal Aviation Administration officials say," the Post writes, "that such data mining is part of a new era in the industry."

The Post writer notes that there is concern within the airline industry about talking about the data: "executives worry that they might scare passengers if they discuss potential problems." But, it is clear they are learning to live with the data and use it for more creative purposes. The biopharma industry should look at the airline experience as a harbinger of the added credibility with the public and user improvements that may emerge from the expansion of active surveillance, which got a boost from the last year's drug safety law (see here).

The drug industry followed the airline industry into the modern era of quality control production and quality assurance forty years ago. It will be good for industry and society if they follow them down the path to active surveillance.

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