Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Conflict of Interest Policy at the U of Minnesota

Painful and Unnecessarily Slow Progress Continues

From the Star-Tribune:

Grassley Reacts: In a brief statement, Sen. Charles Grassley said he is concerned that the University of Minnesota's new conflict of interest policy will not provide enough details about faculty's income from outside firms. "Sen. Grassley looks for requirements that the amounts of money to be reported are meaningful and for specificity about what the money is for. We've looked at what's publicly available about the new policy ... It's not clear what the new policy at the University of Minnesota will make public.''

It's time to put an aggressive approach in place.

The new policy, however, doesn't go far enough in querying professors about outside income.

The old policy simply had them check off if they earned $10,000 or more. Under the new plan they would have to check off annual income categories, such as $50,000 to $100,000; its highest category is $250,000 or more. Why not simply disclose the actual amount?

Rotenberg has an unsatisfactory answer: This is the disclosure approach other public entities use. The U should seize the opportunity to set an aggressive standard.

[Par for the course for General Counsel Rotenberg.]

Legislators also need to do their part. A misguided state law that prevents the U from publicly disclosing outside income should be changed. The public deserves to know more about the ties between state experts and industry.

The proposal's language governing industry-funded continuing education also needs sharpening in the months ahead. And the U should make another small but significant change and delete language that allows for consideration of a professor's "unique value" when weighing a potential conflict of interest. Some critics contend it means faculty stars will get special treatment, [e.g. the case of the double dippers?] and it could give opponents ammunition to hold up the proposal.

That would be unfortunate. The university's medical school has been under fire for not putting an aggressive conflict management plan in place sooner. [As well it should.] The U now has a strong, far more comprehensive policy almost ready to go. It's time to put the finishing touches on the plan and make it happen.

The policy is not explicit enough about what sort of gifts to medical students - including textbooks with drug company logos - are allowed. And the question needs to be answered: where does this new policy put us on the American Medical Student Association scorecard? We started out at D and were given, provisionally, a C based on an earlier draft of the policy. Where do we stand now? It should be noted that the Mayo Clinic has received an A rating.

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