Stanford University Medical School Dean Philip Pizzo has sent a reminder to medical school staff after an investigation found that some Stanford physicians had violated the school's own policy by giving paid promotional talks for drug companies.
The disclosures about Stanford were included in "Dollars for Docs," a national investigation by Pro Publica, a philanthropy-supported news staff that produces what it calls "investigative journalism in the public interest."
The journalists compiled data from drug companies that disclosed payments to doctors for promoting their drugs. The payments, from seven companies including Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson and Cephalon, totaled $282 million across the country.
The database included 3,072 payments to physicians in California, totaling $28.58 million.
"Receiving payments isn't necessarily wrong, but it does raise ethical issues," Pro Publica said.
Pro Publica said its investigation found that more than a dozen Stanford doctors "were paid speakers in apparent violation of (Stanford) policy -- two of them earning six figures since last year."
Stanford's policy, enacted last year, bans doctors from giving paid promotional talks for drug companies.
Professor of Cardiology Alan Yeung, who earned $53,000 from Eli Lilly & Co. in 2009 and the first half of 2010, said he has quit speaking for the company.
"I take full responsibility for this error," he told Pro Publica. "Even though I felt that these activities are worthwhile educational endeavors, the perceived monetary conflict may be too great."
Professor of Psychiatry Hans Steiner earned $109,000 from Lilly for talks about a drug for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Steiner told Pro Publica he had wrongly assumed he was not subject to Stanford's policy, having become an emeritus professor last year, but now, "I fully intend to comply."
Pizzo said some doctors had "understandable reasons for confusion about Stanford's policies and have already addressed them.
"Others, though, offered explanations why their activities continued that are difficult if not impossible to reconcile with our policy, and here we have concerns."