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BMC Research Notes

Open Access

Validity of tools used for surveying physicians about their interactions with pharmaceutical company: a systematic review

  • Tamara Lotfi1, 3,
  • Rami Z. Morsi1,
  • Nada Zmeter1,
  • Mohammad W. Godah1, 3,
  • Lina Alkhaled2,
  • Lara A. Kahale1, 3,
  • Hala Nass4,
  • Hneine Brax5,
  • Racha Fadlallah3 and
  • Elie A. Akl1, 3, 6, 7Email author
BMC Research Notes20158:720

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13104-015-1709-4

Received: 22 June 2015

Accepted: 17 November 2015

Published: 25 November 2015

Abstract

Background

There is evidence that physicians’ prescription behavior is negatively affected by the extent of their interactions with pharmaceutical companies. In order to develop and implement policies and interventions for better management of interactions, we need to understand physicians’ perspectives on this issue. Surveys addressing physicians’ interactions with pharmaceutical companies need to use validated tools to ensure the validity of their findings.

Objective

To assess the validity of tools used in surveys of physicians about the extent and nature of their interactions with pharmaceutical companies, and about their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes towards such interactions; and to identify those tools that have been formally validated.

Methods

We developed a search strategy with the assistance of a medical librarian. We electronically searched MEDLINE and EMBASE databases in September 2015. Teams of two reviewers conducted data selection and data abstraction. They identified eligible studies in one table and then abstracted the relevant data from the studies with validated tools in another table. Tables were piloted and standardized.

Results

We identified one validated questionnaire out of the 11 assessing the nature and extent of the interaction, and three validated questionnaires out of the 47 assessing knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of physicians toward the interaction. None of these validated questionnaires were used in more than one survey.

Conclusion

The available supporting evidence of the issue of physicians’ interaction with pharmaceutical company is of low quality. There is a need for research to develop and validate tools to survey physicians about their interactions with pharmaceutical companies.

Background

Social, economic and public-health sectors are interested in the elements of poor prescription practices [1, 2]. There is evidence that physicians’ prescription behavior is negatively affected by the extent of their interactions with pharmaceutical companies [3, 4].

A large number of qualitative and quantitative studies aimed to understand physicians’ knowledge, beliefs and attitudes towards their interaction with pharmaceutical company representatives. In at least two studies, physicians have denied being influenced by pharmaceutical promotion while claiming it influenced their colleagues [5, 6].

There have been many initiatives to manage the financial relationships between industry and physicians. For example, the Institute of Medicine published in 2009 the “Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice” report which included recommendations to addressing those relationship [7]. More recently, the Physician Payment Sunshine Act has required pharmaceutical and medical device companies to publicly report payments to physicians and teaching hospitals, as well as certain ownership interests [8].

In order to develop and implement policies and interventions for better management of interactions [9], we need to understand their extent, as well as physicians’ perspectives towards interaction with pharmaceutical companies. Studies of physicians’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs need to measure them using validated tools.

The study objectives were to:
  1. 1.

    Assess the validity of tools used in surveys of physicians about the extent and nature of their interactions with pharmaceutical companies, and about their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of towards such interactions.

     
  2. 2.

    Identify and describe survey tools that have been formally validated

     

Methods

Eligibility criteria

The inclusion criteria for our first objective (assessing validity of tools used in surveys) were:
  • Types of study design: quantitative survey studies

  • Types of participants: Practicing physicians; we used no restrictions on country of practice;

  • Types of interactions: any form of interaction between physicians and pharmaceutical companies or their representatives;

  • Types of outcomes: extent and nature; knowledge, beliefs, attitude [10].

The exclusion criteria for our first objective are:
  • Studies restricted to “residents” or “medical students”

  • Studies not published in English.

The inclusion criteria for our second objective (identifying and describing validated tools) were:
  • Tools used in one of the studies included under the first objective

  • Tools assessed for criterion validity and/or construct validity (see Appendix 1 for definitions). We did not include tools assessed only for face and/or content validity given they represent perceptions and judgments of experts regarding the content of the tool [11].

Search strategy

We developed a search strategy with the assistance of a medical librarian (Appendix 2). We electronically searched MEDLINE and EMBASE databases in September 2015. We did not apply any search filter. We also screened the references lists of included studies and the grey literature (e.g., theses). Last, we searched the Health and Psychosocial Instruments (HaPI) database to screen for indexed validated tools relevant to our study.

Selection of studies

Teams of two reviewers screened the titles and abstracts of the identified studies in duplicate and independently. Then they used standardized forms to screen the full texts of the studies judged as potentially eligible by at least one of the reviewers. They compared results, and resolved disagreement by discussion. They sought the input of a third reviewer as needed.

Data collection

Teams of two reviewers abstracted data from included studies. They compared results, and resolved disagreement by discussion. When needed they sought the input of a third reviewer. They used pilot tested standardized data abstraction forms.
  • For each study included under objective 1, we noted whether the tool was newly developed (versus a previously developed, versus a modified version of a previously developed tool) and whether or not it has been validated.

  • For each validated tool included under objective 2, we noted the concepts it measured (e.g., extent, nature, attitudes, beliefs, knowledge); how it was developed; and how it was validated.

Data analysis and synthesis

We calculated the kappa statistic to assess the agreement between reviewers for full text screening. We summarized the findings in both narrative and tabular formats, as the nature of the data was not amenable to a meta-analysis. We reported the results separately for tools measuring extent and nature, and for tools measuring knowledge, beliefs and attitudes.

Results

Figure 1 shows the results of the search and of study selection. The kappa statistic for full-text screening was high at 0.893. We identified 11 eligible surveys assessing nature and extent of the interaction, and 47 eligible surveys assessing knowledge, beliefs and attitudes.
Fig. 1

Study flow

Nature and extent of the interaction

Validity of tools used in surveys

Table 1 shows the 11 included studies and the validity of their tools. Nine studies reported developing a new tool [1220], and two reported modifying a previously developed “validated” tool [21]. Of these 11 studies, only one used a tool that met our criteria for validity [19]. Of the remaining ten studies, three assessed content validity [18, 20, 21].
Table 1

Description of the originality and validity of tools used in surveys assessing the extent and nature of interaction between physicians and pharmaceutical companies

 

Newly developed

Previously developed, modified

Validated

Madhavan [19]

 

Non validated

Alosaimi [18]

Halperin [12]

Hemminki [13]

Hossain [14]

Lurie [32]

Scheffer [16]

Seidel [17]

Venkateraman [33]

Alosaimi [21]

Ferrari [20]

Validated survey tools

As stated above, only one tool assessing the nature and extent of the interaction fit our criteria for a ‘validated tool’ (Table 2). That tool measured the concept of “gift giving”. While the report did not provide details about the development of the tool, it described evaluating face validity as well as construct validity using principal component factor analysis of the attitudinal items.
Table 2

Detailed description of validated tools used for surveying physicians about their interactions with pharmaceutical company

Study ID

Concept(s) measured by instrument

Development methods

Validation methods

Madhavan [19]

Extent of giving

Not described

Face validity

Assessment of theoretical and construct validity 
using principal component factor analysis of the 
attitudinal items

Andaleeb [22]

Attitudes toward pharmaceutical company representatives

Exploration of “secondary sources of information”

In-depth interviews of physicians and pharmaceutical company representatives

Development of a preliminary questionnaire

Pre-testing on three physicians

Face and content validity

Construct validity

Factor analysis with correlation matrix suggesting discriminant validity

Fernandez [2]

Importance of sources of influence

Bibliographical review and assessment by experts

Tested on a sample of 124 GPs

Content and construct validity

Multiple correlation analysis and a factorial analysis

McKinney [23]

Attitudes of physicians toward interaction with pharmaceutical company representatives

Perception of the value of a gift likely to compromise a physician’s judgment

Reviewed and edited by three individuals with expertise in questionnaire design, education, or pharmaceutical detailing

Construct validity

Expert review and factor analysis

Knowledge, beliefs and attitudes

Validity of survey tools

Table 3 categorizes the 47 included studies and the validity of their tools. Of these studies, 37 developed new tools, five used previously developed tools, and five modified previously developed tools. Of the 47 included studies, only three used tools that met our criteria for validity [2, 22, 23]. Of the remaining 40 studies, four studies evaluated content validity [20, 2427] and one evaluated face validity [25].
Table 3

Description of the originality and validity of tools used in surveys assessing knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of physicians towards their interaction with pharmaceutical companies

 

Newly developed

Previously developed, used as is

Previously developed, modified

Validated

Fernandez [2]

McKinney [23]

Andaleeb [22]

 

Ferrari [20]

Non validated

Mikhael [34]

Indhumati [35]

Tabas [36]

Loh [27]

Thomson [26]

Skoglund [25]

De Gara [37]

Evans [38]

Magzoub [39]

Saito [40]

Alghasham [41]

Ellison [42]

Ross [43]

Burashnikova [44]

Fortuna [45]

Tobin [46]

Morgan [6]

Brett [47]

Rutledge [48]

De Las Cuevas [49]

Spiller [50]

Jones [51]

Figueiras [1]

Guldal [52]

Gaedeke [53]

Gibbons [54]

Creyer [55]

Gaither [56]

Gaither [57]

Banks 1992 [58]

Hayes [59]

Stross [60]

Hull [61]

Evans [62]

Siddiqi [63]

Macneill [24]

Alssageer [64]

Stoddard [65]

Sara [66]

Oshikoya [67]

Othman [68]a

Rajan [69]a

Caudill [70]a

aPreviously validated

Validated survey tools

Only three survey tools assessing knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of physicians toward the interaction met our eligibility criteria for a ‘validated tool’ [2, 22, 23]. Table 2 provides a full description of those tools. In summary:
  • Concepts measured The first tool assessed the physicians’ attitudes towards pharmaceutical companies representatives (PCRs) [22]. The second assessed the perspectives towards the importance of different “sources of influence” [2]. The third assessed physicians’ attitudes toward interacting with PCRs and the perceptions of the effect of the value of a gift on physician’s judgment [23].

  • Development methods All three validated survey tools were developed based on review of literature. The first tool was additionally developed using in-depth interviews of physicians and PCRs to develop a preliminary questionnaire [22]. The second [2] and the third [23] survey tools were developed by consulting with experts while developing the questionnaire. Pre-testing was conducted for the first [22] and second [2] tool.

  • Types of validity Construct validity and factorial analysis were reported for the development of all three tools [2, 22, 23].

Discussion

In summary, the purpose of this study was to systematically review the available tools to survey physicians about their interactions with pharmaceutical company and identify the validated ones. We identified one validated questionnaire assessing the nature and extent of the interaction, and three validated questionnaires assessing knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of physicians toward the interaction. None of these validated questionnaires were used in more than one survey. Four of 58 surveys on interactions used validated questionnaires.

The major strength of our study is the use of systematic review methodology (including comprehensive search, duplicate selection and data abstraction processes). Also, our systematic review is the first one to assess the validity of tools to survey physicians about their interactions with pharmaceutical companies. One potential limitation is our restriction to physicians in practice. Although one could argue that questionnaires designed to survey residents and students might be informative and used for physicians, we wanted our study to be more focused.

Unfortunately, the use of non-validated or poorly validated instruments is not uncommon in health survey research. Indeed, we have identified three methodological studies assessing the validity of tools in specific healthcare fields [2830]. The first study included studies assessing the attitudes of healthcare students and professionals towards patients with physical disability [28]. This study identified 38 eligible surveys, nine of which used validated instruments, and only three of these fit our validity criteria [28]. The second methodological study focused on studies assessing knowledge, perceptions and practices of health care professionals towards alcoholic patients [29]. Out of 21 included studies, the numbers assessed for internal construct validity, external construct validity, and predictive validity, internal consistency, and reliability were 8, 15, 1, 7 and 0 respectively [29]. The third study focused on surveys of prevalence instruments in clinical and epidemiological research on waterpipe smoking [30]. Out of 38 identified surveys none one reported using a validated instrument [30]. The lack of consistent use of validated instruments could be a combination of substandard conduct and a substandard reporting of survey studies.

Conclusion

Policy makers addressing the issue of physicians’ interaction with pharmaceutical company need to be aware of the low quality of supporting evidence due to the use of non-validated questionnaires (given the bias that could be introduced into the findings). One observation is that the questionnaires in the identified surveys measured different concepts (e.g., aspects of the interaction, “information” or the “gifts” aspect). This limits the capacity of comparing results across studies (e.g., across different countries, or in the same country over time).

Our findings highlight the importance of the use by investigators of commonly accepted and validated instruments. These investigators could use our findings to choose a validated questionnaire. Unfortunately the choices are limited, and those investigators may reasonably judge that none of the instruments address exactly their specific research question. Therefore there is a need for research to develop and validate such tools. Investigators also need to adhere to suggested guidelines for reporting survey studies that include recommendations for reporting the extent to which the validity and reliability of the instrument have been established [31]. It would also be ideal for journals to require authors of surveys to adhere to those guidelines.

Abbreviation

PCR: 

pharmaceutical company representatives

Declarations

Authors’ contributions

EAA, TL: concept and design; LA, LK, HN, HB, RF, TL: study selection; TL, RM, NZ, MWG: data collection; EAA, TL, RM, NZ, MWG: data analysis and interpretation; EAA, TL: drafting of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the help of Ms. Aida Farha in developing the search strategy. We would like to thank the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research for supporting the work of our group on systematic reviews related to health policy and health systems.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Clinical Research Institute, American University of Beirut
(2)
Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, American University of Beirut
(3)
Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut
(4)
Faculty of Medicine, University of Damascus
(5)
Faculty of Medicine, Université Saint Joseph
(6)
Department of Internal Medicine, American University of Beirut
(7)
Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University

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Copyright

© Lotfi et al. 2015

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