Harvard tackles med school conflicts policy

Harvard Medical School has joined the parade of educational institutions strengthening their conflict-of-interest rules for their doctors and researchers, the Boston Globe reports. The news comes at a time when the U.S. Senate is investigating some of the school's faculty members for their relationships with industry.

It's a tough job for Harvard because the med school doesn't control its teaching hospitals, and most clinical faculty are employed by those hospitals, not by the school, its new vice provost, Dr. David Korn, told the Globe. But that doesn't mean it can't be done, Korn said. The gifts doctors receive from pharma "are unnecessary and distracting and in some ways demeaning to the medical profession," he said. But in revamping its policies, the medical school somehow has to "bring the hospitals along with it."

A 19-member committee will review the school's entire conflicts-of-interest policy. One of those members, Dr. Richard Schwartzstein, told the Globe that transparency is the order of the day. "The trend is to become more and more stringent," he said.

One bit of evidence for that new stringency: Last year, the American Medical Student Association gave Harvard an "F" for its conflicts policies. And Harvard's own students have been pushing for change. One group lobbied the med school for a new policy that requires lecturers, faculty, and visiting profs to disclose any financial interests they have in companies or treatments they discuss in class. But students say enforcement of the policy is spotty.

As you know, several Harvard psychiatrists have come under fire for spotty disclosure of their own relationships with drugmakers; the Senate Finance Committee found tens of thousands of dollars in unreported income. That committee is still investigating, and Harvard has its own probe underway.

- read the story in the Globe