Medical Societies Sign New Conflict of Interest Code

June 2010

By Alicia Ault
Elsevier Global Medical News

Fourteen medical specialty societies have signed a voluntary pledge to be more transparent in dealings with pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers and other for-profit companies in the health care field.

The pledge, issued by the Council of Medical Specialty Societies (CMSS), was the result of at least a year of negotiations, said Dr. Allen S. Lichter, who is chair of the CMSS Task Force on Professionalism and Conflict of Interest and the chief executive officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

"CMSS is committed to encouraging and supporting a culture of integrity, voluntary self-regulation, and transparency," said Dr. James H. Scully Jr., CMSS president and chief executive officer of the American Psychiatric Association.

"This code provides a clear benchmark for maintaining integrity and independence," he noted.

The 14 societies that are adopting the CMSS Code for Interactions with Companies agree to establish and publish conflict of interest policies as well as policies and procedures to ensure separation of program development from sponsor influence. They also must disclose corporate contributions and board members' financial relationships with companies. In addition, societies adopting the code agree to prohibit financial relationships for key association leaders.

The initial signers included the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American Academy of Neurology (AAN), American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American College of Cardiology (ACC), Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American College of Physicians (ACP), American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM), American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPMR), American College of Radiology (ACR), American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), and ASCO.

"ACEP already adheres to a very high ethical standard in all that we do, so we were pleased to officially adopt this code," said ACEP Executive Director Dean Wilkerson.

"We hope others will sign on in support of this code."

"The new CMSS Code collects in one document a wide array of good practices and ethical standards for medical societies and their leadership," Mr. Wilkerson added. "In some areas, the code raises the bar and should help promote confidence in our organizations and our members. I applaud CMSS for its work on this."

Dr. Lichter called the code a "very important milestone" because it will create consistency where there has been none. Many previous efforts to reduce conflicts of interest between medical societies and for-profit companies have been done in private, but this effort is very much a public undertaking. The new code has been designed to reassure the public and regulators that professional societies are acting ethically, Dr. Lichter said.

It is also, however, just a first step, he said. The code is not meant to be the last word; it represents a minimum set of guidelines. Some organizations may choose to be more restrictive, Dr. Lichter said.

According to the CMSS, the code was developed by a 30-member task force. More of the 32 members of the CMSS plan to adopt the code in the next few months.

The Code for Interactions with Companies is available on the CMSS Web site at
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