Summary of the U's conflict-of-interest policy

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jglazer75 via Wikimedia Commons

U of M Medical Center

The University of Minnesota has finally released its ethics policy over conflicts of interest that may occur when its medical faculty and staff are involved with businesses that have a connection to their university work.

It’s been about three years in the making, and is apparently stricter than the policy being worked up for the rest of the university.

You can read the whole policy on the U’s Web site, but what follows is a summary of the major points.

It’s my first look, so chime in if I’ve missed the mark on anything. I also have calls out to various institutions and critics for reaction, but I’d like to hear yours.

How effective will it be in reducing the problem?

Here’s the summary:

  • Threshold: The magic number is $5,000. Any combined income from a single business — including equity stakes in a publicly traded company — triggers a university review. The U also wants to look at any stakes that personnel have in private companies as well as any executive or board positions they hold. Certain types of royalties get an exemption.
  • Disclosure: It’s once a year for the above, with a 30-day deadline to report any major changes. The university will also review the cases of those whose consulting income exceeds $100,000 a year. Physicians must disclose to patients in writing any business interests they have in drugs or devices used in their care. They must also make such disclosures to research sponsors and professional journals, and must inform audiences when they make a public appearance.
  • Compliance: If the U finds a conflict of interest, it’ll determine whether the business relationship will have to end, or whether it needs to be reduced or “managed.” That could include bringing in a medical colleague to corroborate things such as drug prescriptions, having a committee oversee the physician, or sending a patient to another doctor.
  • Consulting:It must be by written contract and with fees consistent with what’s normal for the market. The U’s normal travel, meals and lodging rules apply, and those things must be documented.
  • Educational materials and samples: Faculty can’t use educational materials developed by a business that promote that company’s product or service. If they’re using educational material developed by a business, they must inform students. In most cases they can’t accept free or discounted samples or demo items unless they’re educational materials, in small quantities, and the faculty member is evaluating them for potential use in a course. They must also first go through a central recording office for documentation.
  • Business-sponsored events: Personnel can still attend sponsored training and education events, but the university will determine whether the sponsoring business will be allowed to cover the costs. Businesses, however, are not allowed to pay those participating. They can sponsor on-campus educational events, but the U says it will maintain control of things such as the selection of speakers and content.
  • Sales and marketing events: Faculty may give presentations at those events if they do so as private individuals, if the information they give is based on evidence and reflects their own views — not just the views of the business — and the speakers tell their audiences of their financial ties to the business involved.
  • Business reps at the Academic Health Center: Not allowed unless invited by faculty or staff.
  • Gifts, food and entertainment: No more individual freebies such as coffee mugs, pens or free services, unless they’re accepted on behalf of the university or are approved by the U. But if they’re items such as tote bags that are handed out to everyone at events, that’s OK. Also out are meals, food, “refreshments” and entertainment, unless they’re “modest meals” that all attendees get at educational events.
  • Other no-nos: Payment for promoting products or services (unless it’s from a company that the employee created), for recruiting patients into clinical studies (unless it’s part of a general fee for conducting or overseeing a clinical trial), for making unapproved endorsements, or for completing evaluations developed by a business. They can’t gain financially when they assign learning materials or where to buy them, unless approved by the U. Allowing businesses with to ghostwrite university-related papers they had nothing to do with is prohibited.