January 25, 2008

New policy halts industry perks

Featured Image

Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D.

New policy halts industry perks

In a major policy shift, Vanderbilt University Medical Center will no longer allow faculty, staff, residents and students to accept personal gifts from industry, regardless of the nature or value of the gift.

The new conflict of interest policy was approved by the School of Medicine's Executive Faculty and applies to all of VUMC's affiliated entities. The policy will be phased in over the next six months, with July 1 the target date for compliance.

“This policy is a practical guide for physician interaction with industry,” said VUSM Dean Steven Gabbe, M.D. “It will give the public great assurance to know that our decisions are based on what's best for them.”

“Nobody's going to run around throwing away drug company notepads,” said David Raiford, M.D., associate dean for Faculty Affairs and chair of the Medical Center Conflicts of Interest Committee. “We just want every person to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

VUMC created the policy in response to patient concerns nationwide that medical decisions are influenced by drug companies. “A colleague at another institution told me about a patient who was given a prescription and said to the doctor, 'Are you prescribing this drug because that's what's on your pen?' That says how powerful this issue is,” said Gabbe.

The U.S. Congress and the National Institutes of Health are also eyeing the possible negative effects of industry influence on research institutions that receive federal funds. This has never been a weak point for Vanderbilt, Raiford noted. “But now, the new policy helps avoid even the perception of conflict.”

According to Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research, the policy focuses on non-research use of industry products and will not affect research relationships or activities.

“Expanding partnerships with industry has been a major priority for our clinical and basic science research,” Balser said. “The policy in no way discourages investigators supported by industry — or investigators from industry — from presenting their findings on campus or in local, national or international settings.”

Drug representatives may continue to meet with physicians and to supply free samples through the outpatient pharmacy, but they may not attend conferences and continuing medical education classes, Gabbe said.

VUMC leaders estimate the new rules will save about $2 million in drug costs each year. “A portion of our budget goes to buy drugs, devices or materials that are not cost effective or that could be purchased at a lower price, such as generics,” said Gordon Bernard, M.D, assistant vice chancellor for Research.

Much of that expense is due to industry marketing efforts that will be curtailed under the new policy, Bernard noted.

Savings on drug procurement may be offset by lost revenue for items such as lunches at conferences. According to Gabbe, there will be some central financial support to balance this loss.

Other policy highlights:

• VUMC personnel may not accept gifts or compensation for listening to sales talks, prescribing medications, changing a patient's prescription or attending CME classes.

• Unrestricted funds accepted through the Development Office may be applied to meals at on-campus meetings, but industry representatives may not attend.

• Consulting arrangements that pay VUMC personnel without defined associated duties are prohibited.

• Provision of industry funds to VUMC personnel for scholarships or training must be free of conflicts of interest.

• While on the VUMC campus, personnel will not wear any clothing, uniform or item that displays the name of a non-Vanderbilt health care service, product or logo.

VUMC's executive leadership is soliciting feedback on the policy, available at www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/medschool/FOTO/docs/VUMC-Industry-COI-Policy.pdf.

“I urge people to read it, think about it, then read it again,” Gabbe said.

“We're enlisting the participation of every member of our community to make it work.”