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Health Inc.

Medical Schools Make Progress On Conflicts Of Interest

Med students are grading their schools for a change. hide caption

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The nation's medical schools are doing a little better at policing conflicts of interest between faculty and drug companies.

Members of the American Medical Students Association have turned the tables and now grade their schools on how well they manage conflicts. The group's fourth third annual report card finds 1 in 5 med schools did better in 2010 than a year ago.

More than half of schools scored an A or B, compared to only 30 percent in 2009 and 19 percent the year before. That means they got high scores on 11 measures — such as whether they forbid faculty from accepting gifts or bar  payments by companies for consulting and speaking.

Some other highlights:

  • 26 schools got an F, meaning they had no conflict-of-interest policies, didn't show they were making progress on adopting policies, declined to participate or didn't respond.
  • 19 of 152 medical schools got A's, and three – Tufts University, University of South Dakota and Des Moines College of Osteopathic Medicine – leapt from D to A.
  • 21 schools improved to a C or above.
  • Many schools are doing a better job of teaching medical students how to recognize conflict of interest in studies, company relationships and sales practices.

Chris Manz, a third-year medical student at Duke University, says the trends are encouraging. "Conflict of interest is now becoming a mainstream concept," Manz says. In 2002, when AMSA started its Pharm-Free project to push medical schools to address COI, "it was hardly on the radar for medical schools, and now half the schools have strong policies."

Duke, he says, got a B this year, up from C last year.

Harvard Medical School also scored a B. Two years ago, students garnered national attention for criticism of the school's conflicts policies. Harvard last summer announced stronger new policies, but Manz says the policies currently in force there fall short of the highest scores in three areas – pharmaceutical company gifts, disclosure of faculty relationships and the school's relationship with industry sales reps.

For more, see a post of ours from July: 5 Things A Harvard Doctor Can Still Take Industry Money For.