Tuesday, March 23, 2010
New conflict of interest (COI) rules could decimate academic plastic surgery
The potential of conflicts (COI) for physicians who accept stipends or consulting fees has led some medical schools to formally prohibit their clinical faculty from accepting such compensation. This movement led to the resignation of a number of distinguished doctors who participate in industry sponsored research, consulting arrangements, and educational events. While not universal among medical schools at this point, this trend is likely to keep some of the best and brightest out of academics. Some consultants and speaks make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to supplement their clinical practice. As academic overhead tends to run high, this opportunity to make alternative income allowed some people to stay in academic surgery who might otherwise leave for pure private practice setups.
Stanford University has now (read here) taken the dramatic step of restricting even volunteer clinical or "adjunct" faculty from this as well. This type of restriction could have a potentially devastating effect on Plastic Surgery training as a number of the most prominent programs in plastic surgery (NYU, University of Texas-Southwestern, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Michigan, etc...) feature many active and adjunct surgeons whom recieve industry support or give educational seminars. The loss of access to these surgeons for training for real (or imagined) COI would be a big blow to the field. In January, the issue was highlighted in a when Boston doctor and well known Allergist-Immunologist, Dr. Lawrence DuBuske, resigned his Harvard medical school position rather than give up his speaking engagements. DuBuske got almost $99,000 from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline in three months last year, more than any other doctor in the country.
While most speakers don't score that much in fees, it can add up to a substantial supplement to someone's clinical practice. COI have been managed in recent years by more stringent required disclosures by speakers at meetings and in our medical journals. The FDA has made efforts to remove panel members from hearings with any potential COI from drug and medical device hearings, including the hearings over silicone gel breast implants earlier this decade. The loggerheads with that idea is that many of the experts in these specialized fields inevitably have some COI from funding, speaking fees, stock holdings, or even intellectual property (shared or owned patents). Scott Spears (chief of plastic surgery at Georgetown University) is one of the world's experts on breast implants, but his testimony before the FDA during the hearings on silicone breast implants was attacked by activists trying to prevent the reintroduction of those devices by any means necessary because he is involved with dozens of companies in R&D, educational endeavours, and speaking sessions.
IMO, as long as clear disclosure by physicians is made these COI issues are manageable as long we always maintain some skepticism about what we are told and review data critically.