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Still Conflicted After All These Years...

and we coulda been contenders.

The University of Minnesota administration initially expected to re-organize the Graduate School in a couple of months. This ludicrous idea indicates the lack of understanding around here about how to get things done.

Another recent example of poor management skills is the denial, foot dragging, and weary negligence in the area of conflict of interest policy. One of the co-chairs of the policy writing committee was himself a violator of the existent policy. Sure gives you confidence in the work of the committee, doesn't it? We coulda been contenders in this area, but no...

Yet another summary of this embarrassment is provided by MPR:

U of M medical school's ethics plan a work in progress

by Tim Post,

Minneapolis, Minn. -- After a year and a half of work, the University of Minnesota still does not have a new conflict of interest policy in place for its 450 faculty, 990 residents and 920 medical students.

It's a complicated issue and will take time to sort out, medical school officials said. But some are frustrated with the pace of the process, and say the university has missed an opportunity to draft a tough policy that protects patients.

Josh Lackner and two dozen others
in the University of Minnesota medical community came up with 14 pages of recommendations to prevent conflict of interest at the U of M's medical school last fall.

Lackner, a recent med school graduate, doesn't see many of those suggestions in a draft document being used by med school leaders to create a new conflict of interest policy.

"There are two pages left," Lackner said. "And there are still some good things in it. But there are some notable problems I think."

Here are some of the problem Lackner sees.

The recommendation that within five years the university stop using industry money to fund continuing medical education, or CME, is absent.
Doctors from across Minnesota attend CME classes in order to keep their licenses current. In 2007, medical industry money paid for half of the University of Minnesota's $2.3 million CME budget.

One item being considered forces U medical school employees to report outside income above $500 from any one source. The current threshold is $10,000. The task force that looked into the issue recommended that all outside income regardless of amount be reported.

Allan Coukel, director of the Pew Prescription Project, a Boston-based group that monitors conflict of interest policies at the nation's medical schools, has followed the U's effort to rewrite its policy. Coukel thought early on the U was headed in the right direction.

"It looks like at one stage they were considering policies that really would have put them in the first rank nationally," Coukel said. "And now they're circulating a document that we can say is a modest advance, but they've squandered a chance to be a national leader."

At lease one person involved with a task force in the early stages of the new conflict interest policy says the process should have been more open to public input.

"And that really throws me for a loop," said Gary Schwitzer, a professor in the U of M's school of journalism. Schwitzer has investigated conflict of interest issues in the medical field in his years as a health journalist.

"For this to have any legs, for it to gain any traction, for it to gain the public's trust, it has to involve public input," Schwitzer said.

Currently the final document is being considered by a team of deans and department heads in the medical school. A spokesperson for the school says there are plans to take public input on the final plan, but they are still looking into the best way to do that.

Some say it's simply taken too long for the med school's leadership to come up with a new document. At one point, the document was expected to be ready by April.

Medical schools across the country scrambled to shore up their conflict of interest policies when, in 2006, the Journal of American Medical Association called for colleges to revamp their conflict of interest policies to avoid any influence by pharmaceutical companies on patient care, education or research.

That report was followed by a New York Times report in June 2007, that raised questions about four Minnesota psychiatrists who received payments from pharmaceutical companies even after they were disciplined by the state medical board. At least one had spent time teaching at the U of M.

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