Purpose: National recommendations specify how medical schools should manage clinical conflicts of interest (CCOIs), including gifts and payments to physicians from pharmaceutical companies. A 2008 study showed that few schools had policies in keeping with the recommendations. The authors conducted a follow-up study in 2011 to assess possible improvements.
Method: To obtain policies in 12 areas of CCOI, the authors searched the Web sites of all 133 medical schools existing in July 2011 and contacted schools that had no online policies. Policies were scored as no policy, permissive, moderate, or stringent, based on published recommendations; each school’s scores were averaged to assess overall policy strength. Changes since 2008 were evaluated. The authors also collected information on schools’ public/private status, hospital ownership/affiliation, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to determine whether these characteristics were associated with differences in policy strength.
Results: Policies were obtained for a representative sample of 127 (95%) medical schools. The frequency of stringent policies increased from 2008 to 2011 in all CCOI areas, and medical schools’ overall policy strength more than doubled. However, less than stringent policies remained the norm for all areas except ghostwriting. Greater NIH funding was associated with stronger policies in five areas and with higher overall policy strength.
Conclusions: Schools have made great progress toward national standards, yet room for improvement remains: The data reveal not a race to the top but a shift from the bottom to the middle. Follow-up research should explore whether stronger policies emerge in the future.