Monday, July 9, 2007

BigU MedSchool Task Force to Probe Doctors on the Dole

In an earlier post,
Minnesota Doctors on the Dole, Mr. Bonzo, suggested that perhaps BigU’s Medical School should weigh in and give us ethical guidance.

He was, of course, being sarcastic. For background about the controversy over the MedSchoolDean's serving on the Pepsi board, see SourceWatch: A Project of the Center for Media and Democracy.

From the Pioneer Press:

U to probe drug makers' payments to doctors

Conflicts of interest, impact on quality of care at stake

By Paul Tosto and Jeremy Olson

Article Last Updated: 07/07/2007 03:12:07 AM CDT

Concerned about the money some doctors take from pharmaceutical companies, the University of Minnesota Medical School is asking an internal group to take a closer look at those payments and their possible influence on treatment.

Led by two U doctors, the group plans to examine the relationships between university physicians and drug firms and whether money creates conflicts of interest.

The move comes a few months after a Journal of the American Medical Association report showed doctors across Minnesota, including some doctors at the medical school, collected more than $30 million from drug firms between 2002 and 2004 for research, travel, meals, consulting and lectures.

"As we recognize our medical school's strengths," the dean, Dr. Deborah Powell, wrote in a May memo, "we also need to examine an area in which we may have some vulnerabilities: our relationships with pharmaceutical companies."

Powell said she wasn't calling for an immediate ban on payments, but she acknowledged "there are problems when some physicians present educational efforts funded by companies that appear much like marketing."

What is the pharmaceutical industry getting for its money? That's the lingering question.

For some, the payments issue is more about objectivity.

"It's a patient-safety issue," said Josh Lackner, the U medical school student who worked with Public Citizen on the research.

Drug salesmen, he said, befriend doctors because "they're paid by for-profit companies to do this. Befriending doctors is a job, and it's a job because it actually works."

What changes would he like to see?

"A good starting point would be barring faculty from speaking on behalf of pharmaceutical products and to also think about limiting paid positions on pharmaceutical boards," said Lackner, who hopes to land a spot on the U task force.

Let's hope that someone like Lackner is on this task force. Another good person would be Robert Jeffery:

But Robert Jeffery, a nationally known researcher and a director of the Obesity Prevention Center in the U's school of public health, worries Powell's PepsiAmericas duty ultimately may hurt the university.

"There is a level of 'ick' among quite a few faculty and students here," Jeffery said. "There definitely are some sour feelings. When you're talking about some of the most powerful people in the university backing it, it makes it distasteful."

(The above material may be found in a previous post with a citation to the original source that can no longer be directly linked. )

It is a little hard to take advice from an institution that seems to be reluctant to discuss its own apparent ethical problems. Let's just hope that the doctors heading the task force are people respected throughout the community for their integrity, fairness, and independence. Otherwise such a task force is not going to be particularly credible.


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