The University of Colorado Denver and its affiliated teaching hospitals have launched an overhaul of conflict of interest policies after a ProPublica database revealed extensive ties between its faculty and pharmaceutical companies.
At a meeting of the faculty senate last week, Dr. Richard Krugman, vice chancellor for health affairs, said he hoped members would soon consider a policy to clearly ban faculty from delivering talks for drug companies.
Without such a clear rule, he said, the school faces a loss of public trust, damage to its reputation and the specter of it physicians parroting industry-designed materials.
"While we value and want to increase our relationships with industry around [drug] discovery … we're going to just have to say we're not going to be involved with these speakers bureaus because they're primarily marketing," Krugman said in an interview Wednesday.
The meeting followed a ProPublica story last month that detailed how physicians at leading universities and academic medical centers, including UC Denver, were taking drug company money in apparent violation of their institutions' rules. Other universities have indicated they plan similar reviews and crackdowns on faculty who are violating their policies.
ProPublica's Dollars for Docs database identified physicians receiving drug company payments for speaking, consulting and other duties. The data include disclosures from Eli Lilly & Co., AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Pfizer and Cephalon for various periods during 2009 and 2010.
ProPublica identified 13 UC Denver physicians whom drug companies reported paying to deliver promotional talks. Dr. Michael McDermott, director of endocrinology and diabetes practice, received $117,000 from Lilly.
In an e-mail at the time, McDermott said he was re-evaluating his participation.
Solutions, a health policy news website run by UC Denver's School of Public Affairs, first reported on the faculty meeting, noting that an internal review at the medical school found that 46 full-time faculty members had been paid by drug companies for speaking or consulting. Only four had sought permission from the school to do the work, as required by a 2008 policy.
Krugman attributed the lack of preapproval to a misinterpretation of the policy. "It has identified a weakness," he told ProPublica. "Some would call it a loophole. Others would call it just an unintended consequence of our language."
Until the policy review is complete, Krugman said he would not approve new speaking contracts. Arrangements previously approved could remain in place until the new policy takes effect, he said.
This week, The Denver Post also reported about the ethics reviews at the school and hospitals in the area.