Medical schools get high marks on conflict-of-interest policies

More than half earn an A or B for their rules governing drug industry interaction with students and faculty.

By Carolyne Krupa — Posted Jan. 4, 2011

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U.S. medical schools have stepped up efforts to steer clear of commercial influences, with more than half of schools scoring high marks on an annual report evaluating conflict-of-interest policies.

Seventy-nine of 152 allopathic and osteopathic medical schools scored a B or higher for policies governing pharmaceutical industry interaction with faculty and students, up from 45 in 2009, according to the 2010 PharmFree Scorecard.

The report is released annually by the American Medical Student Assn. and the Pew Prescription Project, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts aimed at improving patient safety through pharmaceutical industry reforms.

"We've seen great improvement across the board for medical schools' conflict-of-interest policies just in the last few years," Chris Manz, chair of AMSA's PharmFree campaign and a third-year student at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina, said in a teleconference.

Schools are evaluated on 11 indicators, including policies restricting gifts, meals, consulting and speaking relationships, and travel compensation that can be accepted from drug companies. Ninety-two percent of U.S. medical schools participated (link).

Nineteen schools got an A, 60 received a B, 24 got a C and 18 got a D. Of the 26 schools that received an F, 12 were given low marks after refusing to submit their policies for review. Five schools received no grades because their policies are being revised.

"We've seen really strong growth in a couple key areas," said Tim Anderson, national PharmFree Scorecard director and a third-year medical student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio. For example, nearly a third of schools now include conflicts of interest in their curriculum, he said.

"The positive changes reflected in this assessment highlight the active engagement of the academic medical community in addressing industry interactions, both through policies and the education of its faculty and students," said Heather Pierce, JD, senior director of science policy and regulatory counsel at the Assn. of American Medical Colleges.

But the Assn. of Clinical Researchers and Educators, which supports relationships with drug companies, called AMSA misguided for its lack of understanding about how such partnerships can benefit students and patients. "AMSA has devoted their time and resources rating medical schools on biased, meaningless subjects which reflect little on their actual education," ACRE's statement said.

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