Moving Conflict-of-Interest Policies up a Notch

It’s no secret that medical device and pharmaceutical companies have had long-standing relationships with medical schools and teaching hospitals.  While fruitful research collaborations have their place, marketing-related relationships are deeply problematic.   Although many schools have significantly strengthened their conflict-of-interest policies that govern these relationships, industry still brings biased information into our nation’s medical education training grounds—places that should be steeped in evidence-based learning. One recent survey of medical schools, for example, found that up to half of medical students and residents reported receiving personal gifts from pharmaceutical companies, even in schools graded highly on the AMSA Scorecard.
Conflict-of-interest (COI) policies–guidelines for how industry can (or cannot) interact with an institution–are key to preventing industry overreach. There is evidence demonstrating that COI policies at medical schools can, in fact, impact prescribing behavior. One study showed that graduates from schools with strong COI policies prescribed antidepressants more rationally than graduates with weaker or no COI policies.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, in partnership with an expert task force of leaders from academic medicine and other partners, released a set of 15 best practices for medical schools and teaching hospitals to use in developing conflict-of-interest policies. These experts have set a high standard for schools and teaching hospitals, with recommendations that COI policies should include banning pharmaceutical representatives from any interaction with students to ensuring that affiliate hospitals and clinics are following the same policies. See a shorter version of these best practice recommendations in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The National Physicians Alliance (NPA) believes that these best practices recommendations are attainable. To move COI policy forward and promote conflict-free medical education, the NPA hosts a National Grand Round Series and Avoiding COI in Medicine Leadership Development Call Series as part of our Unbranded Doctor project. The NPA encourages all doctors to join our national network of physicians committed to reducing the influence of pharmaceutical marketing on our profession.