Med school docs still break conflict-of-interest rules

While some medical schools continue to get smarter when it comes to implementing conflict-of-interest policies, as FierceHealthcare reported last Friday, many physicians at several prominent schools haven't been able to keep their hands out of the cookie jar, according to a ProPublica report.

For example, in 2009, Stanford University School of Medicine banned faculty physicians from giving paid promo talks for drug companies. ProPublica found that more than 12 of the school's faculty were paid speakers, though, with two of the doctors earning six figures since last year from the pharma industry.

"Although it seems implausible, I suppose it is possible that a Stanford faculty member might still be unaware of the School of Medicine Policies on Academic Industry Relationships," Stanford Dean Dr. Philip Pizzo wrote in a letter to faculty. While some of the confusion about the med school's policies were understandable, some who have violated the conflict-of-interest rule "offered explanations why their activities continued that are difficult if not impossible to reconcile with our policy," he wrote.

At the University of Colorado Denver, ProPublica found that despite a 2008 policy banning faculty from speaking for pharma companies if the content is approved by industry reps, 13 of the school's physicians were speakers paid by drug companies. One of them, Dr. Michael McDermott, director of the endocrinology and diabetes practice at the University of Colorado Hospital, made nearly $117,000 from Lilly.

And despite a 2008 policy that restricts paid speaking at the University of Pittsburgh, ProPublica discovered that 22 Pitt doctors had earned money speaking for pharma companies, as well.

Upon comparing the names of faculty members at a dozen medical schools and teaching hospitals with ProPublica's Dollars for Docs database of payments, reporters uncovered many matches.

"For God's sake, if the media can look at these websites, why can't we?" David Rothman, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University. "Why trust if you can verify?"

In contrast, one teaching hospital where faculty seem to get the message is UMass Memorial Health Care. A check of the Dollars for Docs database confirmed that only one of its nearly 1,000 employed doctors had received a speaking fee--for $188.

To learn more:
- read the ProPublica article
- check the Dollars for Docs database for doctors who have received pharma industry dollars

Related Articles:
Med schools get smarter about conflicts of interest
Harvard Medical School tightens conflict-of-interest rules up another notch
Stanford: Pfizer will fund our med school curriculum with 'no strings attached'
Stanford faculty required to disclose ties to industry