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USF not yet rated in ‘PharmFree’ survey

USF’s College of Medicine received an ‘in-process’ grade from the American Medical Student Association’s (AMSA) PharmFree 2008 Scorecard. The AMSA PharmFree Scorecard rates the level of pharmaceutical company interference at medical schools across the nation.

Though USF responded to the initial PharmFree survey, the package containing USF’s information was lost by a courier service that shuttles information between AMSA and the Prescription Project, a health care industry watchdog organization that partnered with AMSA for the Scorecard project. Two other schools’ information was also lost, said Allan Coukell, director of policy at the Prescription Project.

“We went back and apologized to the schools,” Coukell said. “It was entirely not the schools’ fault.”

However, since the initial response was lost, neither AMSA nor the Prescription Project has received additional information from USF.

Rebecca Sadun, director of student programming for AMSA, said they would still accept a response from USF even though the PharmFree report has been published.

“We are hoping to get a response from every school,” she said.

Of the nearly 160 medical schools that AMSA contacted, about 20 have sent in responses since the report was published, she said, and the final report has been updated to accommodate them.

The PharmFree Scorecard rates the country’s medical schools in several areas of pharmaceutical company relationships. These include gifts and funds, guest speakers and industry-sponsored events.

Instead of conducting research to find accurate information, some doctors rely on pharmaceutical representatives to tell them which drugs to prescribe, Sadun said.

“The field of medicine has become addicted to pharmaceutical companies,” she said. “Doctors often prescribe the most marketed medication rather than the one that best suits the patient’s needs.”

In medical schools, pharmaceutical company interference is especially effective since the future doctors are still learning about the healthcare business. Students learn to rely on pharmaceutical representatives – salesmen, not scientists – for pharmaceutical advice, Sadun said.

Many students and doctors do not make a conscious decision to obey the representatives, who often shower doctor’s offices and hospitals with gifts, said Gabriel Silverman, an AMSA representative who worked on the PharmFree project.

“They work on an unconscious level: We don’t realize it’s happening,” he said. “Study after study has shown this.”

Of the four other schools in Florida to receive a grade, two schools – the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami and the Florida State University College of Medicine – received B’s and two schools – Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine and the University of Florida College of Medicine – received F’s for not responding and refusing to respond, respectively.

“(The University of Florida College of Medicine) declined to participate,” Coukell said. “One good guess would be that they don’t have strong policies in this area.”

However, Coukell said there is no way to know for sure why some schools refused to take part.

AMSA representatives said that if USF responds again it could receive a grade in about 40 days.

“We would love to find someone who would respond to us,” Silverman said.

USF representatives who participated in the PharmFree survey could not be reached for comment.