Conflicts of Interest at Academic Medical Centers

A recent perspective "Serving Two Masters-Conflicts of Interest in Academic Medicine" by Bernard Lo in the New England Journal of Medicine discusses the conflicts that researchers encounter when they have positions both as academics and are on the boards of for profit companies. The perspective highlights the example of Partners Health care in Boston, which has recently begun to set limits on the amount of compensation that its employees can receive from serving on the board of companies. The limits set are quite high : up to $5,000 per day for the time spent at board meetings , but nonetheless some researchers are not happy with the limits.

The author lays out the differing mission of academic health centres (AHCs), such as Partners, and for profit companies and notes that often these missions may be irreconcilable. As he observes, key to all these arrangements, if they are allowed at all, is “Sound conflict-of-interest policies [which] require careful analysis of the benefits and risks of a relationship between academia and industry.” He concludes that “The public grants the medical profession considerable discretion in setting its own standards because it trusts that physicians will place patients’ interests ahead of their own or those of third parties. To maintain this trust, AHCs should take the lead in addressing conflicts of interest in medicine, rather than merely responding to government requirements and adverse publicity about troubling cases.”

Is this as much of an issue in other disciplines - we'd be interested to hear of other perspectives for outside of biomedicine.