April 2011
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ASLME to Convene National Conference on Conflicts of Interest in the Practice of Medicine & Medical Research

Recently, the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics announced that it will be convening a national conference on the issue of Conflicts of Interest in the Practice of Medicine and Medical Research.  The Conference will be co-chaired by David Orentlicher, M.D., J.D., of Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis and Aaron S. Kesselheim, M.D., J.D., M.P.H. of Harvard Medical School. If you are interested in the conference, and would like to participate, or if you simply would like more information, please contact ASLME Executive Director Ted Hutchinson at thutchinson@aslme.org.

The Conference will be held at the University of Pittsburgh on October 27-28, 2011, and the event is generously funded by a grant from the Highmark Foundation, with additional funding contributed by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and by The University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

The Scope of the Issue

In 2009, the Institute of Medicine produced a lengthy report that considered the problem of Conflicts of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice.  Among the conclusions of the report were that:

Financial conflicts of interest pose many challenges to health care professionals. They raise concerns about the objectivity and trustworthiness of research conduct and publications, the prudent management of scientific investigations and other activities in the public interest, and the commitment of health care professionals to the best interests of patients. In recent years the media has highlighted failures of individuals and institutions to disclose and appropriately manage financial ties with industry (including pharmaceutical, medical device, medical supply, and insurance companies). These failures contribute to questions about whether industry has undue influence in research and other activities.

As medical research, professional education, health care, and institutional management have become vastly more complex and expensive, the task of managing conflicts of interest has become more challenging. Industry is now the leading funder of medical research, and much research is conducted in nonacademic settings. Industry also is involved in funding the development of evidence reviews and practice guidelines that are intended to help translate research findings into practice. Such guidelines may shape clinical choices and may even be used to evaluate professional or institutional performance.

The issue of conflicts of interest is just as fundamental at the level of institutions as it is in the wider medical field. Problems such as conflicts between doctors, hospitals (and other health care institutions), and health sciences schools (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and public health), as well as other academic institutions engaged in life sciences research, can arise in relation to pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, and insurance companies. All of these potential conflicts raise questions as to how exactly an academic institution is to best fulfill its mission while navigating these complex and difficult pathways.

The Institute of Medicine report on conflicts was a bold step in the right direction of understanding the problem and exploring conclusions. But in the fast-paced and ever-changing world of medicine, law, and ethics, a neutral conference of experts is an ideal forum to discuss, update, debate, and implement new findings and conclusions about conflicts of interest. This conference is the necessary next step in assuring that conflicts of interest remained in the spotlight as a critical issue to those concerned with education institutions and medical practice. 

ASLME’s Conflict of Interest Conference

Our national conference will feature an array of recognized national experts who will discuss, debate, and propose best practices and approaches to the problem of Conflicts of Interest. The findings of the conference will also be published in a special issue of the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, where those from a wide variety of fields and backgrounds will be able to access these important new findings.

We will have more information about this exciting and important conference coming soon, and will have updates in every issue of the ASLME Insider. We hope to see you all in Pittsburgh in October 2011.

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American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics
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Boston, MA 02215