CHICAGO Doctors need to stop taking handouts from drug and medical device companies if they want to clean up the perception that industry has too much influence over the practice of medicine, the Institute of Medicine said Tuesday.
The institute, one of the National Academies of Sciences that advises U.S. policymakers, said doctors need to voluntarily swear off lunches, drug samples and strictly disclose research funding to strengthen protections against financial conflicts of interest.
"It is time to end a number of long-accepted practices that create unacceptable conflicts of interest, threaten the integrity of the medical profession, and erode public trust while providing no meaningful benefits to patients or society," said Dr. Bernard Lo, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
"We also need more specific disclosure of the financial relationships that doctors and researchers have with medical industries," Lo said in a statement.
Concern over research integrity in the United States has become more pronounced following accusations last year by Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley that prominent Harvard University psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman and others failed to fully disclose payments from drug companies.
The report called for virtually anyone involved in the practice of medicine -- academic medical centers, journals, professional societies, researchers and doctors -- to set up or strengthen conflict of interest guidelines.
Doctors who have any financial ties with industry should disclose them not only to their employers, but also to relevant medical organizations.
The report also called for more uniformity in conflict of interest policies, and said current policies vary widely and many offer insufficient protections.
The report also calls on professional societies, government agencies and groups that accredit medical schools to push for implementation of conflict-of-interest policies, and expose institutions that have not adopted the recommended policies.
While the report calls for new legislation to beef up disclosure of financial conflicts, it also stresses the need for voluntary efforts by medical groups, industry and individual doctors.
"If medical institutions do not act voluntarily to strengthen their conflict of interest policies and procedures, the pressure for external regulation is likely to increase," the committee wrote.
(Editing by Maggie Fox)