In an effort to create more transparency in the medical world, hospitals across the nation are pushing for full disclosure of their doctors’ financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.  After the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation’s most prominent medical research centers, became the first to mandate that all of its doctors publicly report their business relationships to pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers in December 2008, many other medical centers have followed suit.  These measures have come in response to growing concerns about potential conflicts of interest doctors may face when working closely with pharmaceutical companies.

Conflicts of Interest Concerns – Drug Industry Ties

The Institute of Medicine has defined a conflict of interest as “a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”  Primary interests include “promoting and protecting the integrity of research, the welfare of patients, and the quality of medical education,” and secondary interests “may include not only financial gain but also the desire for professional advancement, recognition for personal achievement and favors to friends and family or to students and colleagues.” 

The major concern is that doctors are being influenced in their treatment decisions and recommendations by the sizeable sums of money pharmaceutical companies may be providing in the form of drug royalties, kickbacks, speaking fees and consulting fees.  Many of these relationships have long been hidden from the general public, raising significant concerns about the integrity of patient care and medical research. 

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has questioned the propriety of such relationships and has introduced legislation requiring drug and device manufacturers to disclose all payments made to doctors, noting that “if a researcher is taking money from a drug company while also receiving federal dollars to research that company’s product, then there is a conflict of interest.”  If passed, this bill would require national disclosure.

Steps Toward Transparency – Identifying Drug Industry Ties

Some drug companies, such as Merck and Eli Lilly, have indicated plans to start publically disclosing their payments to doctors this year.  Additionally, many hospitals and medical centers have begun measures requiring doctors to divulge their financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.  Recently, Massachusetts state officials approved strict regulations prohibiting pharmaceutical and medical device companies from offering gifts to doctors, limiting the circumstances under which they can pay for doctors’ meals, and requiring them to publically disclose certain consulting and speaking fees over $50.  Penn Medicine has followed the initiative of the Cleveland Clinic by announcing its own plans to launch a web site with searchable information on its doctors’ and scientists’ outside activities.

The Cleveland Clinic’s actions are laudable, though come on the heels of a lawsuit filed in December 2007 by a former clinic doctor who alleged “widespread and pervasive conflicts of interest” at the Cleveland Clinic. 

Combating Conflicts of Interest – Whistleblower Lawsuits

If you have information about pharmaceutical kickbacks or other pharmaceutical fraud and would like to report such illegal activity, our whistleblower attorneys can provide experienced legal advice and answers to your questions.  Please contact us today for a free and confidential case evaluation.

Published November 17, 2011 by