IGGI announces the launch of a new project on financial conflicts of interest among medical school faculty.
Substantial coverage of University of CA medical school faculty members in recent years has included news of ongoing corporate payments to researchers and practitioners from companies that market and produce the very devices and treatments they recommend to patients. The former chairman of UCLA’s orthopedic surgery department Robert Pedowitz reported substantial conflicts of interest and failed reporting among the school’s faculty, noting that he became concerned that his colleague’s financial conflicts of interest could improperly impact patient care or research into new treatments[i]. In a subsequent lawsuit about whistleblower retaliation, the University found that its faculty had engaged in no wrongdoing while offering Pedowitz a $10 million settlement[ii]. One oversight group, Consumer Watchdog, observed that across the University of California, policies were “either inadequate or unenforced…Patients in UC hospitals deserve the most reliable surgical devices and medication…and they shouldn’t be treated as subjects in expensive experiments”[iii] Conflict of interest scandals across medical schools preceded this case, but the Pedowitz corruption scandal brought long-festering problems to front-page news once again. Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Walid Gellad said, “There are real risks here…Are the policies in place enough to govern these potential conflicts among the leadership of academic medical centers?”[iv].
From stealing the eggs of women for implantation into other women without consent[v], to the improper sale of cadavers[vi], to killing patients by injecting live bacteria into their brains[vii], to failing to disclose conflicts of interest[viii], misconduct among medical school faculty has been reported in the mainstream media.
As members of the public, we inherently trust our medical school faculty because they take the Hippocratic Oath, which should contribute to an ontological perspective that puts the patients’ welfare and informed consent first. Although most patients will not be directly affected by misconduct from UC medical school faculty, every patient should expect the best treatment, has the right to exert control over his or her body, and should not be treated as a guinea pig or commercial product for someone else’s profit. Controversial conduct spans decades, reaches across campuses, applies to all patient stages from pre-, during- and after- patients’ lives have taken their course.
Stronger regulations and enforcement are required for this important public policy issue. Through critical review of case studies, IGGI will advance recommendations for enhanced oversight.
[i] Terhune, Chad (2014, April 25). More scrutiny for UCLA’s School of Medicine. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ucla-outside-money-20140426-story.html#ixzz30BvcCJIV
[ii] Terhune, Chad (2014, April 25). More scrutiny for UCLA’s School of Medicine. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ucla-outside-money-20140426-story.html#ixzz30BvcCJIV
[iii] Petersen, Melody. (2014, May 25). UC system struggles with professors’ outside earnings. Orange County Register. Retrieved from http://www.ocregister.com/articles/university-615629-ucla-corporate.html
[iv] Terhune, Chad (2014, April 22). UC OKs paying surgeon $10 million in whistleblower-retaliation case. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ucla-doctor-conflicts-20140423-story.html
[v] Yoshino, Kimi. (2006, January 20). UC Irvine Fertility Scandal Isn’t Over: While seeking to limit its liability, college admits it failed to inform many patients of wrongdoing. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jan/20/local/me-uci20
[vi] Jablon, Robert and Associated Press. (2004, March 11). Scandal at UCLA reveals cadaver trade as big business. Boston. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2004/03/11/scandal_at_ucla_reveals_cadaver_trade_as_big_business/
[vii] The Sacramento Bee. (2013, August 25). UC Davis surgeons resign after bacteria-in-brain dispute. Retrieved from http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/article2578591.html
[viii] Terhune, Chad (2014a, April 22). UC OKs paying surgeon $10 million in whistleblower-retaliation case. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ucla-doctor-conflicts-20140423-story.html