Doctors who work for Partners HealthCare and sit on the boards of medical device, pharmaceutical or biotech firms are under increased scrutiny , after the owner of Mass. General Hospital and Brigham & Women’s Hospital enacted new rules governing potential conflicts of interest.
The Harvard Medical School-affiliated hospitals are home to a number of senior officials who enjoy high-profile — and often lucrative — seats on the advisory boards of major companies in the medical sphere. According to the new rules, however, their pay for those seats must be limited to $5,000 a day for actual board work — or “a level befitting an academic role” — and the docs can no longer receive company stock as compensation.
Some of the physicians in question were pulling down more than $200,000 a year for their services to various firms, according to the New York Times.
The move is the latest by Partners HealthCare to restrict industry access to its doctors. In April, 2009, the healthcare conglomerate banned sales reps from its halls and barred its physicians from accepting paid speaking engagements and from receiving gifts, entertainment or food from medical device and drug companies.
The new regulations on directorships are among the strictest in the nation, according to the Times.
“We’re the first to go in this deep, and we’re still into it only up to our knees,” Dr. Eugene Braunwald, a Harvard professor and chairman of the Partners’ policy-writing group, told the newspaper. “We thought it was a very good idea to have institutional officials serve on boards, but we did not want to have personal enrichment.”
Although directorships for doctors are a commonplace, Partners seems to have a disproportionately high number of physicians serving on boards, according to the newspaper:
- Mass. General chief of medicine and Partners chief scientific officer Dr. Dennis Ausiello serves was paid more than $220,000 last year to sit on Pfizer’s board;
- Former Partners president (now retired) Dr. Samuel Thier was named to the Merck board in 1994 and earns more than $200,000 a year from various corporate boards;
- Former Harvard Medical School dean Dr. Joseph Martin, named to Baxter International’s board in 2002, also pulls down more than $200,000 a year from his directorships;
- Dr. Daniel Podolsky, the original chairman of the Partners policy commission and its former chief academic officer (and now president of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas), is paid $191,000 a year for his seat on the board at GlaxoSmithKline;
- Braunwald, Podolsky’s successor as policy chairman, was a director of Astra Pharmaceuticals two decades ago and served as a science adviser to at least six companies.
Braunwald said times have changed over the years, especially recently, as evidenced by new rules at Partners and by so-called “gift bans” enacted in Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota. Other states are mulling similar regulations and a move is afoot at the federal level to include similar provisions in the “Physician Payment Sunshine Act.”
“In all fairness,” Braunwald told the Times, “what was O.K. three years ago is not O.K. now.”