A few months ago, we wrote (“Doctors in Pharma’s Pocket?”) about a report that found many common arrangements between pharmaceutical companies and doctors to constitute an unacceptable conflict of interest. These arrangements, which range from buying doctors lunch as they listen to a drug presentation, to paying for their medical “refresher” courses, are exceedingly common: A survey found that 75% of doctors accepted free meals or drug samples, and drug companies spend more on services for doctors than they do on research or on consumer advertising.
Another common — and commonly denounced — practice is for hospital and medical school officials to work on the side for pharmaceutical companies, often receiving large compensation for comparatively little work. Critics complain that these doctors will feel beholden to drug companies as they create policies that shape how thousands of doctors learn and practice their profession. Most officials themselves maintain, of course, that their professional judgment is unchanged by their sources of income.
The hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School, however, are no longer content to take these officials at their word. Starting this year, approximately two dozen senior staff members will have a cap placed on how much money they can earn from sitting on the boards of pharmaceutical companies. According to an article in The New York Times, these restrictions go further than those at any other academic medical center in the country. Under the new rules, officials can earn no more than $5,000 a day working on the boards of drug companies, and they must actually be working — not just holding an honorary position. The hospital group now also prohibits all employees from receiving money to speak on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, a policy that affects thousands of its doctors, and has created an office to monitor its relationship with the drug industry.
What do you think — are policies like this a step in the right direction? Or will they just make talented medical professionals more likely to leave academia for drug companies — something that regularly happens already? Would you trust a doctor who was paid to give lectures for a drug company to teach, or to evaluate patients, impartially? Leave a comment below!