The American Medical Student Association released its 2013 PharmFree Scorecard this month, continuing to pressure and encourage medical schools to improve their policies on conflicts of interest and interactions with industry. These policies have impacts on students’ medical education, the future of the medical profession and the care physicians provide. As patients we should be able to trust that decisions about our care are based on science and our best interests, not the marketing strategies of the pharmaceutical industry.

Now in its sixth year, the AMSA Scorecard rates U.S. Medical Schools on 11 key model polices that institutions should implement to reduce inappropriate interactions between the industry and medical school faculty and students. In the 2013 Scorecard, fully 115 (73 percent) of the 158 U.S. medical schools now receive an aggregate grade of A or B for their policies, compared with 102 last year and just 45 in 2009.


AMSA PharmFree Scorecard Grade Distribution 2013

Dr. Elizabeth Wiley, AMSA national president, praised the progress made: “The PharmFree Scorecard is a successful, evolving tool which assesses the policies of academic medical centers and medical schools… With all of the compelling data about how marketing influences even the best-intentioned physicians, it is gratifying to see that medical schools are taking the necessary steps toward practicing evidence-based medicine, which translates into better patient care.”

The Scorecard analyzes and scores gifts and meals from industry to doctors, paid promotional speaking for industry, acceptance of free drug samples, interaction with sales representatives and industry-funded education. Ninety-seven percent of all eligible medical institutions sent their policies to AMSA for analysis this year, up from 92 percent in 2009, a striking confirmation of its significance for medical school leadership.

Dr. Maurice Clifton, Sr. Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the new Commonwealth Medical School in Scranton, PA, told Community Catalyst that “The scorecard was an essential tool that helped us develop a comprehensive policy to ensure appropriate interactions between students, faculty and industry in the academic clinical setting.”

Commonwealth Medical School, which welcomed its first class in the 2009-2010 academic year, received an aggregate “A” grade, with the highest scores possible on 10 of the 11 model policies. In March, Commonwealth MS joined other Pennsylvania medical schools and academic medical centers in a meeting convened by Community Catalyst to discuss best practices and strategies to implement the policies that the Scorecard measures.

Highlights of the 2013 AMSA Scorecard:

  • 93 schools (59 percent) now have model polices prohibiting all gifts and on-site meals, up from 19 (12 percent).
  • 79 schools (50 percent) have a curriculum on conflicts of interest, up from 12 (8 percent) in 2008.
  • Schools with model policies on speaking arrangements have grown tremendously; 44 (28 percent) schools ban or severely restrict participation in speaker bureaus compared to 31 (20 percent) in 2011-2 and only 4 (2.5 percent) in 2008.
  • Only 41 schools (26 percent) have a model policy in terms of disclosure, requiring personnel to disclose past and present financial ties with industry (e.g., consulting and speaking agreements, research grants) on a publicly-available website and disclosing these relationships to patients.
  • Policies restricting industry support for Continuing Medical Education are now in place in only 28 schools (18 percent), but this is nearly double the number of schools in 2010.
  • Access by pharmaceutical sales representatives remains a major challenge, with only four schools (2.5 percent) prohibiting sales reps from meeting with faculty and trainees regardless of location, or prohibiting sales reps from marketing their products.

AMSA PharmFree barchart 2013

A webcast of a live discussion of the AMSA Scorecard release can be found here. This National Grand Rounds was organized by the National Physicians Alliance, and includes a description of the updated methodology for the 2014 Scorecard for medical schools, as well as the new Scorecard for teaching hospitals, which were designed by AMSA and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Community Catalyst is also producing “A Policy Manual for Academic Medical Centers and Medical Schools,” with Toolkits on the policies rated by the AMSA Scorecard – you can download the the first one, on medical school curricula on conflict of interest, here.

The 2013 AMSA PharmFree Scorecard, the NPA National Grand Rounds and the Community Catalyst Policy Manual are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin. Partners in the PACME project are AMSA, Community Catalyst, the National Physician’s Alliance, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. For more information, contact Marcia Hams, at mhams (at) communitycatalyst (dot) org.