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Tackling conflict of interest

Faculty of Medicine's guidelines ranked among the best in Canada

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Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba
Wave, September / October 2013

The University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine's industry relations policy has been ranked second best in Canada, according to a new study of confict of interest (COI) policies.

The study, in the open-access, peerreviewed journal PLOS ONE, was led by Principal Investigator Adrienne Shnier, a PhD candidate at York University's School of Health Policy and Management. It evaluated all 17 Canadian medical schoolspecific COI policies and found that at most medical schools COI polices are generally weak - or, in some cases, absent.

The researchers stated in their introduction that "Conflicts of interest with industry may occur in medical education in the classroom, in the conduct and reporting of research, at the bedside, and in the treatment of patients. The education of medical students should be based on the best clinical information available, unbiased by the commercial interests of industries marketing pharmaceutical or other health products."

Conflict of interest policies approved as of September 30, 2011 were analyzed and graded on 12 different categories ranging from gifts (including meals) to industryfunded speaking relationships to on-site education activities.

I am proud that we ranked just behind Western University. Our industry relations policy, adopted in 2009, provides a rigorous set of guiding principles on interactions between the Faculty of Medicine and the Pharmaceutical, Biotech, Medical Device, and Hospital and Research Equipment and Supplies Industry.

The policy applies to all faculty, staff, students, and trainees, as well as representatives of industry to ensure any interactions result in optimal benefit to clinical care, education and research, and maintain the public trust. It's also intended as a guide to equitable and fair treatment of industry members.

While the interaction with industry can be beneficial, these interactions must be ethical and avoid any actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest that may affect the integrity of the faculty's education, training and research programs, or the reputation of either the faculty member or the institution.

Our policy is very much in synchrony with that of the Winnipeg Health Region, which is our close partner in academic health sciences. Following are highlights from our policy:

Gifts, meals and compensation

  • Regardless of the nature or value, gifts may not be accepted by Faculty of Medicine individual faculty members, staff, students, and trainees.
  • Meals or other hospitality funded directly by industry may not be offered in any facility that is owned, operated or affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine.
  • Any person engaged by industry to provide consulting or speaking services must provide a contract outlining specific tasks and deliverables, with payment corresponding to the tasks assigned, subject to approval by the department head or dean of medicine.

Drug, instrument, and device samples

  • Clinical evaluation packages (drug samples), instruments, or device samples can only be used within established clinic site policies, procedures and best practices.

Access by industry representatives to faculty, staff, students and trainees

  • Faculty, staff, students, and trainees at affiliated sites (i.e., Winnipeg Health Region) must abide by the industry relations policies and procedures established by the affiliated facility.
  • Generally, industry representatives are permitted in non-patient care areas by appointment and with appropriate consent.
  • Industry representatives are prohibited from having any non-faculty-mentored interaction with students or trainees.
  • Students and/or trainees are prohibited from soliciting financial or non-financial support from industry.
  • Commercial exhibits intended to showcase industry products are permitted if directly related to an educational activity and must comply with the Division of Continuing Professional Development Policy on Commercial Exhibits.

Industry support for education programs, meetings or activities

  • Funds for educational activities may be provided to the Faculty of Medicine or department but are not to be given to individual faculty members, staff, students or trainees.
  • The dean's office must be informed in advance, and approve, requests to, or offers from, industry for grants to support educational events.
  • Faculty, staff, students, and trainees can attend programs and events organized by professional organizations or associations, universities, or regulatory bodies that receive educational grants from industry. Industry-sponsored scholarships
  • Industry-sponsored scholarships or other educational funds for students and trainees must be free of any real or perceived conflict of interest.

Disclosure of COI

  • Relationships with industry must be formally disclosed by faculty or staff to his or her department head or supervisor in writing as soon as the faculty or staff member becomes aware of the existence of a conflict of interest.

Industry support for research

  • Any person participating in the design, conduct, analysis, or reporting of industry-funded research must ensure a signed multi-partner agreement is in place that is satisfactory to the researcher, the department head, the industry partner, and the institution(s) where the research will be conducted.

Going forward, we will continue to refine our COI policies to ensure they remain among the best in the country, and we hope others will follow our lead and implement similar policies.

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