Ethics reform proposed at U Med School


A University Medical School task force has recommended sweeping changes to the school’s conflicts of interest policy, according to an unreleased report obtained last week by the Daily.

The recommendations come amid concerns over financial relationships between medical school personnel and the medical industry. Between 2002 and 2004 alone, the University and its medical faculty received nearly $1.5 million from drug companies, according to data from Public Citizen , a consumer rights advocacy group.

The policy recommendations, if enacted, would prohibit faculty, medical residents and students from receiving gifts from medical companies, and would strive for increased transparency for patients.

Another recommendation would require doctors to disclose all relationships with a pharmaceutical company before prescribing a drug to a patient. It would also create a website where conflicts of interest information would be readily available on the Internet for “anyone to review,” according to the report.

The recommendations signal an admission that conflicts of interest are a cause for concern, medical student and task force member Josh Lackner said.

“This policy is recognizing that there’s enough literature that says this actually affects the way doctors practice,” he said.

Medical School Dean Dr. Deborah Powell commissioned the task force in fall 2007 to address concerns about conflicts of interests among those at the school.

The concerns were not misguided. The University as an institution received more than $700,000 from drug companies, with $238,000 tied to clinical studies and research between 2002 and 2004, according to the Public Citizen data.

Powell declined to comment until the recommendations are finalized and deferred to Dr. Leo Furcht , co-chairman of the task force.

“The objective is to provide greater openness and transparency,” Furcht said. “Really, to take a hard look at ourselves and make recommendations.”

Since the task force’s genesis, a number of reports have addressed conflicts of interest at American medical schools.

A report from the American Medical Student Association released last summer gave the University’s Medical School a ‘D’ for its current policies.

The report listed the fact that most, but not all, financial relationships require a review by a school committee as one of the reasons for the low score. Under the proposed policies, all financial relationships between faculty and the medical industry would require disclosure — not just those under the $10,000 threshold that currently defines a “significant financial interest,” according to the report.

The AMSA scorecards followed an earlier report from the more influential Association of American Medical Colle ges that recommended schools prohibit the acceptance of any gifts from the medical industry.

While the recommendations were not formed in direct response to those reports, the findings were considered, Furcht said.

“We looked at and listened to the comments made in the AMSA report, but it was really driven by sort of a higher sense of obligation to our patients, our students and trainees,” he said. “We think there’s no place in medical education and the delivery of care for gifts to physicians.”

Lackner called the recommendations “a really good start,” but “not the end of the issue.”

He said the issues regarding conflicts of interest are too specific to address in wide-ranging policy recommendations and need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Still, he’s optimistic for what the future might bring to ethics reform at the medical school, but is still mindful that the report is simply a draft.

“We needed to get a policy out and this is a good start,” he said. “I don’t want to act like this is already put in place; I wish it were.”