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Georgia Medical Schools Take Steps to Stop Flow of Pharmaceutical Money

January 11th, 2012 by Doug Bremner

Story from PBA originally posted today here where you can also listen to the radio interview.

ATLANTA, GA (WABE) – In recent years, doctors have come under increased scrutiny about the money they receive from drug companies.

Medical schools across the state are now taking steps to better police these relationships in order to avoid the appearance of biased research.

The Medical College of Georgia in Augusta has recently limited the gift amount doctors can receive from drugmakers to $25.

“Essentially you’re not to accept a gift in any dollar amount that directly influences your work or improperly influences it,” said Lee Little, a spokeswoman for the school. “We’re actually looking to adopt an electronic system for conflicts of interest reporting.”

It’s part of growing trend to limit the influence of pharmaceutical money and protect the integrity of academic research. Studies have found that when doctors receive gifts or fees from a drug company, those doctors are more likely to prescribe that company’s products.

In a high profile case from 2008, a congressional investigation revealed that the head of Emory’s psychiatry department failed to report more than a million dollars of consulting fees from companies whose drugs he was evaluating in academic journals.

That doctor was forced to resign from his chairmanship and later left the school.

Emory has since adopted a strict disclosure policy and a preapproval process for any payments taken from drugmakers.

Kathy Kinlaw of the Emory Center for Ethics helped develop the policy.

“We basically have eliminated all contact for our medical students and our faculty as much as possible,” said Kinlaw.

However, with the arrival of these restrictions, some physicians are quietly complaining. They say the relationship exists in order for doctors to meet peers and learn about new research and drugs.

“The increase in requirements in disclosure and the requirements for preapproval that’s more coming from administration,” said Emory psychiatry professor Dr. Douglas Bremner. “I think the academic physicians are just watching their outside consulting income melt away and grumbling about it behind close doors.”

In any event, drugmakers are still spending big money. The investigative news website ProPublica says in the last three years, $20 million has been spent on Georgia’s medical practitioners, in and outside of medical school.

Donald Palmisano of the Medical Association of Georgia says these are important relationships, but doctors should disclose them if the patient has concerns.

“As long as the physician is disclosing and answering questions honestly about what their relationship is to a pharmaceutical company, I think it’s something if the patient has concerns about, then they should ask those questions,” said Palmisano.

Patients will have more information to go by in March when a new federal sunshine law will force drug companies to publicly disclose all payments made to doctors and other health professionals. Copyright 2012, WABE

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