Stossel, conflicts and the new Health Wonk Review

First, check out this week’s edition of the Health Wonk Review, hosted by The NewHealth Dialogue Blog. Paul Testa goes for the carnival theme.  “It’s time to let your inner wonk wander through a spectacle that’s as uniquely American as apple pie and health reform.”

Then check out the Globe story on docs who are fighting conflict of interest rules.( And, stay tuned. I’m going to head over to the meeting.)

A growing number of hospitals, universities, and states are barring drug companies from buying physicians dinner, hiring them as speakers, and giving them even token gifts.

Now, a new organization of doctors – several from Boston – wants to roll back policies curbing interactions between doctors and drug company representatives, saying restrictive rules ultimately will hurt the patients they’re designed to protect.

The group, called the Association of Clinical Researchers and Educators, plans to hold its first conference today at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to promote “productive collaboration’’ between industry and physicians, which they say leads to better medicines and treatments.

Dr. Thomas Stossel, of BWH, is one of the group’s founders. (He is also the brother of television reporter John Stossel.) Having covered the conflict of interest debate, I appreciate his willingness to offer his point of view.  For more on Dr. Stossel’s view on conflicts of interest, here’s a recording of a 2007 talk he gave at Mass General. (I’m working on snipping off the first three minutes of intro.)

Also, I quoted him in a  2003 story I wrote for Nature Medicine on conflicts of interest.

Harvard University hematologist Thomas Stossel has discovered a coveted method for refrigerating platelets that could revolutionize transfusion therapy. Stossel is seeking an industry partner and stands to earn a fortune if the technique works. But here’s the rub: if he succeeds, Harvard’s rules on conflict of interest will bar him from future research.

“I would love to be involved in the study design [of the trial],” says Stossel. “[But] I can’t, according to the rules—you either take the academic credit or you take the money.”

Harvard’s rationale for the ban is simple, and one many ethicists have repeatedly voiced: when researchers stand to gain from the success of a trial, it can affect their objectivity, and pose a potential risk to enrolled patients. “The appearance of a conflict itself breaks down the trust between the public and the scientific community,” says Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts University professor who recently published the book Science in the Private Interest.


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