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Most US medical schools and large teaching hospitals have financial ties to drug companies, according to a survey published this week (JAMA 2007;298:1779-86).
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and the Association of American Medical Colleges surveyed all 125 US medical schools and 15 large teaching hospitals, which often do more research than many medical schools. They asked the heads of the medicine and psychiatry departments about ties to drug companies because these departments are often large and likely to have industry funding for education. They also surveyed the head of the microbiology department and one other non-clinical department.
They found that 60% of departmental heads had a financial relationship with a drug company as a consultant, member of a scientific advisory board, a paid speaker, an officer, a founder, or a member of the board of directors.
Two thirds of departments at medical schools and large teaching hospitals had relationships with industry that involved research equipment, unrestricted funds, support for research seminars, residency and fellowship training, continuing medical education programmes, discretionary funds to buy food and drink, support for professional meetings, subscriptions to professional journals, and intellectual property licensing.
“The attitudes and experiences of department chairs are significant because they manage the primary organizational structure of medical schools and teaching hospitals. They . . . control significant amounts of resources, and wield considerable influence over the content of medical education and the careers of department members,” the authors write.
Overall, they say, 80% of clinical departments and 43% of non-clinical departments had at least one tie with industry.
Despite these ties “more than two thirds of all chairs with a personal relationship with industry reported that their personal relationships had no effect on the various types of departmental functions. A similar percentage claimed that there was no effect on their personal financial status,” the authors say.
When they were asked about the effect of relationships with industry on the department's ability to provide independent, unbiased education and training, department heads felt that unrestricted grants were more effective than restricted grants.
Industry “has made substantial inroads” into funding for continuing medical education and residency and fellowship training in the United States, the authors say. Two thirds of the costs of continuing medical education in medical schools and teaching hospitals is paid for by drug and medical device companies, they report.
A spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry trade group, told the BMJ that the organisation was unable to comment on the study because it did not collect information on the industry-academic ties reported in the article.