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Kent claims that patient groups are not naive, value their independence fiercely, and are quite capable of spotting the strings that may be attached to funding.1 Many doctors have similar overconfident beliefs about invulnerability to being misled by drug companies.2 This illusion of invulnerability actually increases vulnerability.3
In the 1840s doctors did not understand the risk of invisible microbes so were offended by the suggestion they should wash their hands. We are now going through a similar paradigm shift towards understanding the risk of invisible unintended bias from exposure to industry influence techniques. These techniques include manipulation of reciprocal obligation, which can occur without our awareness.4 Patient groups tend to reciprocate by lobbying governments to pay for overpriced drugs rather than lobbying the companies to reduce their prices.
Funding for patient groups could be increased and the alleged problems with government funding reduced by abolishing patents to allow price competition and using the savings to fund research, education, health promotion, and other activities of patients' groups through competitive grants.5
Competing interests: Healthy Skepticism is funded by individual subscriptions and occasional small contracts. In the past 5 years we have provided services for many organisations including universities, Consumers International, Der Arzneimittelbrief (Germany), Drugs and Therapeutics Information Service (Australia), Health Action International, National Prescribing Service (Australia) and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.