Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Not The Worst Person In The World

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) may be lock stepping with his party on almost everything else, but when it comes to investigating the unseemly connection between doctors and pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment manufacturers, he has done the country a great service. He has managed to rein in even prestigious medical schools when it comes to shilling for drugs and medical devices by doctors, as this Boston Globe article makes clear. His work is beginning to bear some fruit:

Harvard Medical School will prohibit its 11,000 faculty from giving promotional talks for drug and medical device makers and accepting personal gifts, travel, or meals, under a new policy intended partly to guard against companies’ use of Harvard’s prestige to market their products.

The conflict-of-interest rules also place stricter limits on the income faculty can earn from companies for consulting, joining boards, and other work; require public reporting of payments of at least $5,000 on a medical school website; and promise more robust internal reporting and monitoring of these relationships.

This is a key announcement. While other medical schools and major hospitals have been developing new ethical guidelines for doctors in the face of Sen. Grassley's congressional investigation, Harvard's program will garner a lot of attention and many plans will be tightened up even further to keep pace.

The Harvard program doesn't ban its medical personnel from participating in research in conjunction with drug companies, nor does it ban them from serving on advisory panels for those companies, and understandably so. Patients benefit from such work, if done honestly and openly. The trick will be in the implementation and enforcement of the new rules, so Sen. Grassley's work is not over.

Still, my hat is off to the Iowa Republican. He's done a good job, one that transcends politics as usual. I also tip my beret to the Boston Globe, which has provided a remarkable series of articles over the past several years examining the payola doctors have received from the drug and device companies and detailing the lack of guidelines in the connections between those companies and doctors, hospitals, and medical schools.

Sometimes the system works.

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