Teaching hospital leaders-drug company affiliation raise conflict of interest concerns

Academic medical center (AMC) leaders who serve on pharmaceutical company boards could create a conflict of interest or foster competition between institutional oversight responsibilities, and individual clinical and research practices, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The industry must pay more attention to relationships between AMC leaders who serve as board members because they have a lot of influence over research, clinical and education missions, wrote authors from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Researchers found 19 of the 47 major pharmaceutical companies studied had at least a single board member who also held a leadership position at an AMC in 2012, according to the article. Forty-one board members held an AMC leadership position in 2012 and received a mean financial compensation of $312,564 for board membership, excluding six industry executives. Board members includes university presidents, deans,  hospitals or health system executive officers and clinical department chairs or center directors.

"Based on data from surveys of department chairmen, other medical school leaders, physicians, medical students, and so on, the data show there's not a single aspect of medical education, medical research or the practice of medicine in which financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry are not ubiquitous," Eric G. Campbell, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and research director for Mongan Institute for Health Policy in Boston, who's also done research on the subject, told Medscape Medical News.

Potential conflicts of interest on boards are an ongoing concern. In February, National Quality Forum President and CEO Christine Cassel, M.D., announced she would resign from Premier and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals boards after medical ethics experts said payments for her work on those boards could create a conflict of interest, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

And in 2011, FierceHealthcare reported that the University of Colorado Denver and its teaching hospitals revamped conflict of interest policies after a ProPublica story revealed professors and physicians took large payoffs from major drug companies for speaking and consulting.

To learn more:
- here's the JAMA article
- read the Medscape article