Officials present draft U of M ethics policy

A nearly two-year effort to rewrite a conflict-of-interest policy at the University of Minnesota's medical school has resulted in a document that would cover all employees at the university.

The draft policy, which was released Wednesday, still requires input from the school's faculty and staff before it is official. University regents will discuss the draft at their regular monthly meeting Thursday.

The policy would require employees to report all outside income to the university. Currently, outside income has to reach a certain level - $10,000 in the medical school, for example - before it's reported by an employee.

If an employee makes more than $100,000 dollars from an outside source, a committee would automatically investigate the financial details to determine if a conflict exists.

"There are many elements of the medical school's work that can be found in the new draft of the university-wide policy."

If there is a conflict of interest, an employee could be asked to end the business relationship. If, for instance, a researcher is also a consultant for a company that provides grant money to the U, that researcher could be taken off the project. An employee could face suspension, or lose his or her job at the U of M if the new rules aren't followed.

The policy also regulates gifts to employees. Under the proposal, U employees can't be singled out for gifts, even small gifts such as coffee mugs, from an outside business. There are exceptions. If an employee attends a conference where tote bags are handed out, for example, they can accept the gift if it's something given to everyone in attendance.

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When the process started in the fall of 2007, the revamped policy was intended to cover doctors and researchers at the medical school.

That came out of a concern that gifts and payments, everything from pens or coffee mugs from drug firms to well-paid positions on medical device company boards, may influence a doctor's patient care decisions.

After the process started, university President Robert Bruininks decided that a new conflict of interest policy was needed to cover all employees on campus.

"There are many elements of the medical school's work that can be found in the new draft of the university-wide policy," said Mark Rotenberg, the university's general counsel. "But this is a broader effort and contains many elements that are not directly applicable only to medical doctors."

The policy also prohibits ghostwriting, which prevents researchers from signing their names to an article written by other researchers or companies with an interest in promoting products.

The draft document requires teachers to disclose any conflicts of interest to their students. Doctors at the U would be required to do the same with their patients.

The policy does not require the university to publish conflicts of interest on a public Web site., something proposed by a panel that developed recommendations for the medical school's conflict of interest policy. University of Minnesota officials say the Data Practice Act prohibits them from publishing that information.

In its current form the policy doesn't ban corporate support of continuing education or CME. Some hoped the U would ban corporate support of CME within five years, a move that's been made at a few medical schools across the country.

Doctors from across Minnesota attend CME classes in order to keep their licenses current. In 2007, medical industry money paid for half of the University of Minnesota's $2.3 million CME budget.

The new policy would regulate money for CME and require that it be in the form of a grant that could be used without restriction by the university.

University officials say they hope to have a final policy in place within three to four months.