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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ties between industry and medical schools widespread, survey finds

Almost two-thirds of the people leading medical school departments have personal relationships with industry and two-thirds of these departments have similar ties, a survey of 140 medical schools and top-funded teaching hospitals found. Most of the doctors polled said their relationships had no effect on their decisions, but they thought multiple conflicts of others could lead to biased research.

"When you say 'everyone's doing it,' the accumulation of data suggests that's really true," Eric G. Campbell, associate professor of health policy at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Policy, said in an interview. He is the lead author of the study appearing in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association. "There is virtually no aspect of medical education in which drug companies don't have significant relationships."

Campbell said the study gives the first portrayal of the links between companies and medical schools on the department level. The authors sampled departments of medicine, psychiatry, microbiology and one other nonclinical department at each surveyed institution.

They asked the individual chairs if they had served on company boards or speakers bureaus, been a paid consultant, or received compensation in the form of stock options, travel subsidies or honoraria. For departments, the questions were whether they got unrestricted funds, support for graduate students, or money for holding research seminars. They were asked if discretionary funds from industry paid for food and beverage, travel to meetings, journal subscriptions, software, or research or clinical equipment.

When asked about other chairs' involvement with companies, almost three-quarters of the respondents thought having more than one substantial role, such as being a consultant and a board member, would harm the department's ability to conduct independent research.

"Failure to address the existence and influence of industry relationships with academic institutions could endanger the trust of the public in US medical schools and teaching hospitals," the authors concluded.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:00 PM
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