Hospitals Adopt Stricter Policies

New rules aim to curtail conflicts of interest between doctors and companies

Two major Harvard teaching hospitals announced Friday that they have adopted an extensive conflict of interest policy, culminating a two-year assessment of hospital ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

After over a year of controversy, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital will now prohibit doctors from receiving gifts from pharmaceutical companies. The Partners Commission on Interactions with Industry policy will also require physicians to report their relationships with drug companies to patients.

Further, executives of Partners HealthCare—the company that owns the two hospitals—will face strict limitations on their involvement with the industry and will no longer be allowed to own stock in any of the drug companies they help oversee.

However, William D. Hoffman, an assistant professor of surgery at Mass. General, said that these policies do not go far enough to prevent conflicts of interest in industry-funded research.

He said that researchers in academia should have primary control over the data, and that currently many investigators are provided with summary data by the industry and are not allowed to conduct their own data analysis, which is done by the drug company itself.

He said pharmaceutical companies might not release data that are damaging to their investigations, and, as a result, hospital investigators might be unaware that they are publishing a study without all the information.

But Eric G. Campbell, an associate professor of medicine at Mass. General, said that he thinks that Partners has created a policy that is in line with many other research institutions.

Campbell said that this policy change sets a tone and a culture for what kinds of relationships will be accepted. He said that he does not expect to see a shift overnight, however.

“These are very resilient cultures,” he said.

Campbell said that the influx of students in medical school who are willing to embrace these policy changes has helped lead to the cultural shift.

Campbell said that doctors can still meet with pharmaceutical representatives—they will just have to buy their own lunch. He also explained that a major financial fallout will be on physician speakers who are paid upwards of $100,000 to $200,000 to give presentations.

“Drug companies do not pay the average physician to give a talk for them,” he said. “They pay the superstars.”

He added, however, that certain industry relations, such as those involving research funding, are essential for financing the next generation of drug products.

“We have no other mechanism to make drugs,” he said. Campbell added that he thinks it is appropriate for academic institutions to give consulting information to drug companies.

­—Staff writer Laura G. Mirviss can be reached at lmirviss@fas.harvard.edu.