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New Clinic Conflict of Interest Policy

It took five months for a Chicago Law firm to review and recommend changes to conflict of interest policies at the Cleveland Clinic. The Clinic requested the internal review after it drew national criticism over the Clinic's financial interest it had in research it was conducting and its failure to disclose that information to patients. Preliminary reports to the Clinic's Board of Trustees in February found the Clinic's drive for innovation in research was out weighing it's need for transparency.

Now the Clinic says it's adopted a new policy that includes some of the firm's recommendations - one that will better scrutinize for potential conflicts. Joe Scaminaci Chairs of the Cleveland Clinic's Conflict of Interest, or COI Committee.

Joe Scaminaci: This is not just restricted to hospital, staff, doctors, and board members. It could be extended and applied to other parties that touch the organization.

Scaminaci says these changes give the Board's Conflict of Interest Committee more power to investigate cases and integrate with similar committee at the staff level. The new position of Chief Governance Officer will provide the committees with information on COI cases. Scaminaci says the changes even affect how prospective board members are selected.

Joe Scaminaci: For example, industry, when they bring new board members on now, they do an independent check to make sure that objectivity is always brought to the forefront. We're going to be doing that as a part of these enhanced powers.

Scaminaci adds, the Clinic will utilize database to keep tabs on the financial interests of its trustees and employees as they relate to research and purchasing decisions.

Joe Scaminaci: This database will allow us to view whether competitive bidding was done, to kick the tires, and ask the right questions on medical devices that may have been developed, and to see if there was any staff involvement in that medical device, or if there was any board involvement in that medical device, and link that up with the database on whether that conflict was in fact disclosed.

However, that tracking information won't be made available to patients or the public. And this concerns Dr. Adil Shamoo, a biochemist from the University of Maryland. Dr. Shamoo edits a journal called Accountability In Research and he says it's not enough for mammoth medical centers like the Cleveland Clinic to ask the public to simply trust them.

Adil Shamoo: It makes no sense to put the safety of millions of human subjects on an individual's goodwill.

Dr. Shamoo criticizes the Cleveland Clinic for not disclosing more information to the public about its efforts to strengthen it's Conflict of Interest policies. He says changes the Clinic has implemented just dance around the issue.

Adil Shamoo: They have not addressed any of the important issues - at least, they have not told us. This four-or-five page statement really says nothing.

Shamoo say conflicts of interest in research at the Clinic are not isolated. He says in the past 40 years, the healthcare industry has changed from maintaining complete objectivity to mixing money with it's medical judgment.

Adil Shamoo: This is a national problem and all the academic medial centers obfuscate about this issue and they don't want to face it.

But Clinic Officials say they are addressing the issue, with stricter policy enforcement - and they're being pro-active by sponsoring a national conference on conflict of interest problems throughout the healthcare industry. That conference will be held in September.

Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.