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Hook, Line, and Sinker - Medical School Conflict of Interest

Or, It's Not Just About Post-It Notes

(With a tip of the hat to a reader for part of the title..)

From the StarTribune:

The University of Minnesota Medical School is considering a new conflict-of-interest policy so strict that doctors wouldn't even be able to accept Post-it Notes bearing a drug company's logo.

Not exactly...

They might not be allowed to accept Post-Its but (hundreds of) thousands of dollars will still be OK...

From MPR - September 25, 2008

Most of the 25 people on the conflict of interest task force were University of Minnesota medical insiders - doctors, researchers and medical students. But at least one person came in with a different perspective.

"I was probably the most outside outsider, maybe the only real outsider on this committee," said Gary Schwitzer.

Schwitzer isn't a medical doctor, he's a professor in the U of M's school of journalism.

In general, Schwitzer said most consumers have no idea what happens between doctors and pharmaceutical companies, whether it's in Minnesota or elsewhere in the country.

"If we went out on the street and told people some of what went on, they would be shocked," he said.

Shocked at what Schwitzer considers the cozy deals between pharmaceutical companies and doctors. What are consumers to think, he asks, when a doctor receives thousands of dollars in fees to act as a consultant for a pharmaceutical company, and then prescribes drugs made by that same company?

Those are some of the potential conflicts of interest task force members considered in their recommendations to the university, Schwitzer said. "This is a beginning...(it) may have raised more questions that it answered."

The plan would also order the the medical school to create a website to show the public how the University manages issues of conflict of interest.

"That would be useful, but it wouldn't be as useful as saying, 'The payments are not allowed'. That would be much more useful," said Dr. Carl Elliot, a professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Bioethics.

Elliott wasn't on the task force. But he's seen the recommendations and doesn't think they go to the root of the problem.

"If the problem is that you think getting all this money from a pharmaceutical company is a conflict of interest, than the solution is to eliminate the money," Elliot said. "The solution is not to say, 'Alright you can still take the money, but you have to report it to someone'. I can't see how that's going to fix anything."

Fourth-year University of Minnesota medical student Josh Lackner, who served on the University of Minnestota task force, welcomes restrictions on the medical industry's involvement at the university. But Lackner doesn't want the effort to stop with the draft recommendations.

"I think there needs to be an ongoing evaluation of what's going on. And I think one committee's policy recommendations while good are not the final answer, it needs to be the beginning and not the final word," Lackner said.

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