Harvard Fencing Physicians from Pharma

July 21, 2010

In a move to limit conflicts of interest among its faculty members, Harvard Medical School is banning staff from giving promotional talks and accepting gifts, travel, or meals from pharma and medical device makers.

In a move to limit conflicts of interest among its faculty members, Harvard Medical School is banning staff from giving promotional talks and accepting gifts, travel, or meals from pharma and medical device makers.

The new policy, set to be phased in towards a Jan. 1, 2011, effective date, is designed to alleviate any illusion that Harvard faculty are not doing what’s best for patients and for their own wallets instead, according to school staff.

The ban applies to speaking on behalf of pharma and medical device companies, earning more than $10,000 annually from such a company, and accepting personal gifts, travel or meals of any denomination. Staff will still be able to conduct industry-funded research, work as paid consultants, hold stock in health care companies (up to $30,000 for public companies) and receive compensation as member of company scientific advisory boards.

Harvard also announced it will post faculty members’ financial interests in, or payments from, drug and medical device companies if the compensation is $5,000 or higher.

Now the idea of full disclosure by hospitals is nothing new, and here, the goal seems to be avoiding a link between the hallowed Ivy League halls of Harvard and medical companies. Harvard staff is often the go-to for medical advice and consultation, so the fact that the Cambridge-based university has taken this step might mean others will follow, if they haven’t already.

But has Harvard struck the right balance? Is prohibiting gifts but allowing paid membership on a board just another form of shifting payment to docs?

I tend to believe that Harvard has both its reputation and the well-being of its staff at heart here and the new guidelines were not composed overnight. The added element of posting compensation online is an interesting one, but I wonder if patients or others will even investigate a possible link to medical companies.

But it will be interesting to see what happens, come 2011, when faculty members have to adjust the way they do business with pharma and medical device companies and if it doesn’t also hurt you too, seeing as those conferences you go to might be devoid of some of Harvard Yard’s finest minds.