UPenn joins ranks of public disclosure of conflicts of interests

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In the spring of 2009, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and its health system, known collectively as Penn Medicine, plans to launch a website that will contain searchable information on all outside activities of its doctors and scientists.

“When all of us are up there transparently, it may make us a little more responsible,” Arthur H. Rubenstein, dean of the medical school and head of Penn Medicine, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It is just human nature: If you know someone else is going to know what you are doing, you may be more careful.”

The other medical schools in the region, including Drexel, Temple, and Thomas Jefferson Universities, said they have no plans to publish their doctors' outside contracts. The schools require doctors to disclose outside income internally and to patients when there is a potential conflict.

When Penn publicly discloses the ties between its medical staff and industry, the institution will join an emerging trend, including the likes of the Cleveland Clinic, which are responding to the growing concerns about medical conflicts of interest.

This summer, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R., Iowa, revealed that three Harvard doctors, including renowned child psychiatrist Joseph Biederman, had gotten millions from drug makers and failed to fully disclose that income, as required by the university and the National Institutes of Health, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Obviously, 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," Grassley said in the Senate.
Grassley and Sen. Herb Kohl, D., Wis., are pushing legislation requiring industry payments to doctors of more than $500 to be available publicly in a national database.

Penn’s proposed website would expand on its current policy, which bans staff from accepting gifts, meals and free drug samples from pharmaceutical firms and others.

Rubenstein said openness about those relationships is critical for those involved in direct patient care, where trust is a key element of clinical success.