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Leading Medical Groups Adopt New Ethics Code

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, April 23, 2010

The days of free pens with drug company names or golf outings on a medical vendor's dime might finally be over with the industry release of The Council of Medical Specialty Societies' (CMSS) new code addressing interactions with companies.

The CMSS ethics code, which was developed by a task force consisting of leaders from the 32 member societies, is designed to limit the influence that drug and device makers could have over patient care. As of Thursday, 14 medical societies have already formally adopted the code and committed to fully implementing it.

Among those signing are: the American Academy of Family Physicians; the American Academy of Pediatrics; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American College of Physicians; and the American College of Radiology. Other member groups are expected to adopt the code over the coming months.

The purpose of the 25-page code is to guide the societies in the development of policies and procedures that safeguard the independence of their programs, policies, and advocacy positions. Since the organizations can vary in their activities and corporate structures, these policies and procedures do need not be uniform.

"Physicians and patients count on medical societies to be authoritative, independent voices in science and medicine," said Allen Lichter, MD, CEO of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and chair of the CMSS Task Force on Professionalism and Conflict of Interest, in a statement. "By adopting this code, societies demonstrate their commitment to the highest level of ethical standards in their activities and to providing the best possible care for patients and populations."

The code has several core principles and areas of implementation:

  • Conflicts of interest. Develop and publicly post policies and procedures to disclose and manage conflicts of interest among those who participate in society activities, such as medical meetings, clinical practice guidelines, scientific journals.
  • Financial Disclosure. Publicly disclose donations and support received from for profit companies in the health sector, and disclose board members’ financial and uncompensated relationships with companies.
  • Independent program development. Develop and make publicly available policies and procedures that ensure that educational programs, advocacy positions, and research grants are developed independent of industry supporters.
  • Independent leadership. Prohibit society leaders—such as presidents, CEOs, and editors in chief of society journals—from having direct financial relationships with relevant for profit companies in the healthcare sector.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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