ProPublica — the non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest and which received a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting — recently published a story revealing that physicians from Stanford, Penn and the Universities of Pittsburgh and Colorado Denver have faculty members who have accepted money to promote drugs despite the fact that these universities have conflict of interest policies that restrict their doctors from accepting pharma money (see “Medical Schools Don’t Verify Faculty Compliance with Ban on Pharma Speaker Fees“).
This is just the latest revelation made possible by comparing names in ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs database of payments publicly reported by seven drug companies with names of faculty members at a dozen medical schools and teaching hospitals.
Here’s an example:
The University of Pennsylvania health system’s 2006 policy states that faculty “should not participate in industry marketing activities.” Penn’s chief medical officer, Dr. P.J. Brennan, said he interprets that to prohibit delivering drug company lectures.
“It flies in the face of what a professional ought to be,” he said.
ProPublica found 20 Penn speakers in its database. Five, including one who left Penn last month, made more than $40,000.
The top paid, according to Dollars for Docs, was Dr. Corey Langer, director of thoracic oncology at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. He received nearly $70,000 speaking for Lilly since 2009.
Langer also received unknown amounts from other companies, including Genentech Inc., OSI Pharmaceuticals Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and ImClone Systems, according to his disclosure for a medical education program this month.
In an e-mail, Langer said he was “now fully aware” of Penn’s policy and is “taking measures to curtail speaking for pharmaceutical companies.”
“When it comes to enforcing the policies, universities have allowed permissive interpretations and relied on the honor system,” said the authors of the article. “ProPublica’s review shows that approach isn’t working: Many physicians are in apparent violation, and ignorance or confusion about the rules is widespread.”
Several physicians claimed they didn’t know they were in violation of their school’s policies. This is similar to what you might say to a cop after being caught running a late-night blinking red stop light.
“For God’s sake, if the media can look at these websites, why can’t we?” said David Rothman, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University. “Why trust if you can verify?”
But it’s not yet easy for all schools to verify compliance using ProPubica’s database or any other database of pharma payments to physicians. For one thing the majority of drug companies in the United States don’t report such payments. This is supposed to change by 2013 when the Physician Sunshine Act will require all drug companies to report these payments (see “Capturing & Reporting HCP-Related Meeting Spending“; use discount code ‘HCP399‘ to get it FREE!).