Who has used internal company documents for biomedical and public health research and where did they find them?

L. Susan Wieland, Lainie Rutkow, S. Swaroop Vedula, Christopher N. Kaufmann, Lori M. Rosman, Claire Twose, Nirosha Mahendraratnam, Kay Dickersin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Objective: To describe the sources of internal company documents used in public health and healthcare research. Methods: We searched PubMed and Embase for articles using internal company documents to address a research question about a health-related topic. Our primary interest was where authors obtained internal company documents for their research. We also extracted information on type of company, type of research question, type of internal documents, and funding source. Results: Our searches identified 9,305 citations of which 357 were eligible. Scanning of reference lists and consultation with colleagues identified 4 additional articles, resulting in 361 included articles. Most articles examined internal tobacco company documents (325/361; 90%). Articles using documents from pharmaceutical companies (20/361; 6%) were the next most common. Tobacco articles used documents from repositories; pharmaceutical documents were from a range of sources. Most included articles relied upon internal company documents obtained through litigation (350/361; 97%). The research questions posed were primarily about company strategies to promote or position the company and its products (326/361; 90%). Most articles (346/361; 96%) used information from miscellaneous documents such as memos or letters, or from unspecified types of documents. When explicit information about study funding was provided (290/361 articles), the most common source was the US-based National Cancer Institute. We developed an alternative and more sensitive search targeted at identifying additional research articles using internal pharmaceutical company documents, but the search retrieved an impractical number of citations for review. Conclusions: Internal company documents provide an excellent source of information on health topics (e.g., corporate behavior, study data) exemplified by articles based on tobacco industry documents. Pharmaceutical and other industry documents appear to have been less used for research, indicating a need for funding for this type of research and well-indexed and curated repositories to provide researchers with ready access to the documents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere94709
JournalPloS one
Volume9
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 6 2014

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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