Saturday, June 04, 2011

Psychiatrists and Media Statistics

Thank you to Angela Wilson and her Twitter feed for pointing me in the direction of this story.

The Palm Beach Post News is covering an investigation of prescribing habits of psychiatrists working in the juvenile justice system. The implication is that doctors who receive Medicaid funding are overprescribing atypical antipsychotics for detained juveniles. While the data looks compelling at first glance, I agree with Angela that it is incomplete.

The article implies there is a correlation between the number of scripts written and the amount of money paid to the doctors. This may be true, but there are no correlation statistics in the article to support this conclusion. They list the doctor's name, how many scripts he writes and how much money he received from the pharmaceutical industry, but there are no correlation measurements whatsoever.

The other problem with the article is that the number of scripts written is not placed into any context: How many hours per week does each doc spend in a juvenile facility? How many patients is he seeing? Is there a difference in the diagnoses per patient group (some docs may be seeing sicker kids)?

I'm not saying that that the pharmaceutical industry doesn't influence prescribing habits, or that it's good to overmedicate kids. My complaint is with how this story is presented. It's incomplete, so obviously incomplete (and I'm NOT a statistics maven!) that even I can pick it up. Sloppy, inflammatory journalism won't help these kids.