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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Project seeks to limit ties between doctors, drug companies
A new campaign called The Prescription Project seeks to end conflicts of interest that may arise from pharmaceutical company marketing aimed at physicians. It calls for academic medical centers to tighten their policies governing ties with industry.
"We are looking to see that payers, consumers and physicians work together to promote evidence-based medicine and to counter the bias of drug marketing," said Robert Restuccia, the project's Boston-based executive director.
The Prescription Project points to Stanford University Medical School, University of Pennsylvania Health System and Yale University School of Medicine as leaders. While their models vary, the institutions restrict gifts to doctors, drug samples and visits by industry sales representatives.
Boston hospitals surveyed by the Globe during the past week say they require drug company employees and other vendors to register with them before visiting, but other policies vary.
Tufts-New England Medical Center does not allow pharmaceutical sales representatives in clinical areas. Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center says its doctors cannot give patients free samples of medications, but Partners' hospitals, Brigham and Women's and Massachusetts General, do let doctors give free samples to patients at certain approved sites, such as a practice serving a significant number of uninsured patients unable to pay on their own.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and St. Elizabeth's prohibit on-site meals paid for by drug companies and restrict gifts to under $100. Partners' hospitals have a similar cap on what doctors can accept. Gifts may include nominal-value items related to education or patient care, the Partners' rules say.
A speaker or panelist at a professional meeting may accept payment for expenses if the meeting's purpose is "promoting objective scientific and educational activities," the Beth Israel Deaconess policy states.
"We take this issue very seriously and continue to update our policies," said St. Elizabeth's spokeswomen Melanie Franco. "We will look at what the Prescription Project is saying."
The Prescription Project, funded by $6 million from the Pew Charitable Trusts, is a joint effort of Community Catalyst in Boston and the Institute on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University. Its impetus was a January 2006 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that said the $12 billion spent annually on drug marketing influences how doctors prescribe medications, whether they receive free lunches, free samples or free trips from companies.