The University of Colorado Denver is rewriting policies meant to prevent conflicts of interest between drug companies and faculty members and doctors working at its teaching hospitals. The move comes in response to reports published last month detailing how U.C. professors and doctors were pulling down big money on speaking tours paid for by major drug companies such as Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. U.C. Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Richard Krugman said the speeches amounted to marketing for the companies. Doctors, some of whom were paid in the six-figure range, reportedly underwent training provided by the drug companies, spoke on topics chosen by the companies and worked off company power-point slides in their presentations.
U.C. Denver launched an internal review at the medical school based on material compiled and posted online by ProPublica and found that 46 faculty members had been working the drug-company talk circuit.
At a faculty senate meeting last week Krugman made the case for reworking the present rules because, he said, they were clearly inadequate to protect the institution’s reputation.
Patients, consumer advocates and health care professionals armed with the facts would surely second guess drug recommendations made by doctors on the Pfizer payroll, for instance, and would surely come to doubt claims about this or that drug’s effectiveness. Indeed, the scenario highlighted by Health Policy Solutions and ProPublica is the kind of classic conflict-of-interest material that feeds Hollywood thrillers like The Fugitive, a 1993 blockbuster. That it took a ProPublica report and an online database to get major institutions like the University of Colorado to review doctor guidelines and drug-company payouts suggests how normative and entrenched the sketchy practices have become.
Without new clear guidelines, Krugman told ProPublica, the university faces a loss of public trust.
“While we value and want to increase our relationships with industry around [drug] discovery,” he said, “we’re going to just have to say we’re not going to be involved with these speakers bureaus because they’re primarily marketing.”
The ProPublica database, Dollars for Docs, lists cash doled out by the drug industry in states across the country. According to the database, EliLilly gives out nearly $21 million to doctors quarterly. Drug companies made 460 payments to doctors in Colorado last year totaling more than $5.4 million.
Read ProPublica’s first story from its investigation here.