• A (small) victory for medical patients, and ethics Thursday, June 24, 2010

    The University of Michigan Medical School has decided that it will no longer accept cash from drug companies to underwrite courses designed to keep doctors’ medical licenses current — a small but welcome step in trying to reduce the influence of Big Pharma over how doctors treat patients.

    It would seem to be a no-brainer to keep some distance between the folks who profit from selling drugs and training the doctors in a position to prescribe those drugs, but that’s the way the post-doctoral education system works, the New York Times reports today.

    Millions of dollars are involved, which naturally has led to some heated gnashing of teeth over whether doctors sitting through pharmaceutical-financed courses would tend to look kindly on the drug companies’ wares when it comes time to writing prescriptions. From the article:

    But Dr. Michael Steinman, an associate professor of medicine at the San Francisco V.A. Medical Center who has studied the use of medical education as a marketing strategy, said that companies face an inherent conflict of interest. “The course providers have a subtle and probably unconscious incentive to put on courses that are favorable to industry because they know where their bread is buttered,” he said.

    […]

    Proponents of industry support for such courses point to a few studies in which the majority of doctors who attended the programs reported that they perceived the events to be free of commercial bias.

    But Dr. Steinman, who conducted one of the studies, said that related research in social science demonstrates that people who receive gifts often feel obliged to return the favor. “Industry wouldn’t be paying billions of dollars to do this stuff if it didn’t benefit them,” he said.

    No kidding. Maybe the medical school leaders need a remedial course in ethics, and the corrupting influence of money.

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