BU Today

In the World

Med Campus to Big Pharma: Keep Your Distance

Boston Medical Center CEO Elaine Ullian says the Medical Campus' new policy promotes the highest standard of care for patients.

Boston Medical Center and the Boston University School of Medicine have adopted a strict new policy to prevent conflicts of interest between doctors and pharmaceutical companies. The policy, one of the most stringent in use at academic medical centers, bans all gifts from pharmaceutical companies, prohibits interactions between sales representatives and medical students, internists, and residents, and enjoins the industry from directly supporting the continuing medical education of individual physicians.

“The new policy promotes the independence of our clinicians,” says Elaine Ullian, president and CEO of Boston Medical Center. “It establishes the highest professional standard of rigor and integrity in the care of our patients.”

David Rothman, associate director of the Prescription Project, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate conflicts of interest in medicine, says adoption of the new policy places Boston Medical Center and the School of Medicine “at the forefront of national efforts to end the corrosive influence of pharmaceutical marketing on medical institutions.” The Prescription Project, which worked with BMC and MED to develop and review the new guidelines, estimates that the pharmaceutical industry spent $12 billion last year marketing directly to physicians, an average of $13,000 per doctor. The nonprofit asserts that such marketing leads to an increased reliance on newer, more expensive products that often offer little or no benefit over older, cheaper drugs and generics.

The policy, which is effective immediately, bans meals paid for by medical companies from the Medical Campus, and it prohibits financial relationships between drug companies and physicians who serve on committees that select drugs for hospital use.

Frances Miller, a professor at the BU School of Law, who is married to a physician, says recent studies have documented the influence of medical marketing on patient care. “If you ask doctors if they are affected by this, 90 percent will say no,” Miller says. “But if you track what they do versus what they say, it tracks very closely with the interactions they have with pharmaceutical marketing.”

Jim Post, a School of Management professor of strategy and policy, teaches a course in corporate governance, accountability, and ethics; he describes the relationship between drug companies and physicians as “an insidious system that affects choices and patient care.”

“This policy sets the gold standard for medical independence and integrity,” says Post. “Let there be no doubt that some companies will criticize the BU medical school for taking this step, but in the end, the school’s institutional integrity will be advanced. We should be proud of the step just taken.”

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.