Conflicts of Interest

The Boston Globe published a story today about new rules at Harvard limiting medical faculty involvement with the health care industry. Pressure from the U.S. Senate and an embarrassing episode with a child psychologist who failed to disclose over a million dollars in drug company funding motivated the change.

Boston University has its own guidelines for interactions between clinicians and industry, which aims to avoid the same appearance of impropriety. The Globe article does not mention how Harvard will enforce the new rules. BU relies on department chairs to report violations of the policy, but that assumes department chairs have detailed knowledge of faculty activities.

I understand the difficulties of navigating industry influence in medicine. Particularly where physicians in academic institutions may accept lower pay than private practice, supplementing with drug company food and honoraria presents an attractive trade off. In applying for Continuing Medical Education credit for the faculty development seminar series, I learned that all the speakers must sign disclosure forms and all the evaluations must include a question about perceived conflicts of interest. The CME forms provides some accountability, but how will departments monitor the less visible ties between faculty and industry?


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