A Wall Street Journal article documents several cases of people being misdiagnosed by general practitioners as having Type 2 diabetes when they actually have Type 1 diabetes, “a substantially different condition” (see “Wrong Call: The Trouble Diagnosing Diabetes“). According to the article:

“An incorrect diagnosis usually occurs in the offices of primary-care doctors, many of whom haven’t received adequate education in medical school about rising rates of Type 1 in adults and how to diagnose it. ‘It is not on their radar because they see so much diabetes and it is by far mostly Type 2,’ said Irl B. Hirsch, professor of medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.”

As I continued reading, I couldn’t help but wonder if the current competition among drug companies to sell Type 2 diabetes drugs has something to do with this. Fierce marketing of these drugs – see box below – may be contributing to emphasizing Type 2 diabetes on GP’s “radar screens.”

The Three Type 2 Diabetes Drug “Amigos”

  1. Januvia – marketed by Merck
  2. Onglyza – marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb/Astrazeneca
  3. Victoza – marketed by Novo Nordisk

See “Three Companies Compete for Diabetes Market Share

In each case cited in the article, misdiagnosed patients were taking oral drugs, none of which were mentioned by name, and none of which are effective or approved by the FDA for treating Type 1 diabetes. “For six years, Mr. Jones [a patient] treated what had been diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. He changed his diet and took three oral medications daily.” It’s likely that at least one of those drugs was one of the “Three Type 2 Diabetes Drug ‘Amigos'” mentioned above.

Of course, many GPs would probably misdiagnose patients as having Type 2 diabetes when they actually have Type 1 diabetes even without being bombarded with marketing for Type 2 treatments. But having multiple pills available to prescribe makes it easier, in my opinion, to avoid taking the patient down the path to a possible Type 1 diagnosis.

The ultimate responsibility for misdiagnosis, however, must rest with the physician and not the pharmaceutical marketer, unless of course, the marketer offers physicians inducements (ie, money or non-monetary rewards) for prescribing products.

On that note, I also read a story in today’s WSJ about Pfizer and other drug companies bribing doctors to prescribe their drugs. Pfizer settled with the DOJ — admitting nothing — but paid $60.2 Million to “Resolve U.S. Allegations That It Used Illegal Payoffs to Win Business Overseas.”

Of course, such things do NOT happen here in the U.S.