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Economy & Business

Pitt Analysis Finds 1 in 10 Healthcare Board Roles Filled By Academic

It’s an evolving debate in healthcare academia; is it a conflict of interest to have a health care instructor also serve in a leadership role at a for-profit healthcare institution?

In a follow up study to one that looked at the overlap of those in leadership roles for pharmaceutical companies and those employed by academic centers, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have now focused on those in leadership roles with publicly traded healthcare companies who are also employed by non-profit academic institutions.

The analysis found that one in 10 American for-profit health care company board positions are held by an individual with an academic affiliation.

Walid Gellad, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and a researcher with Pittsburgh VA Medical Center, said he wanted those in academia discuss the numbers.

“There’s an evolving environment when it comes to conflict of interest. There’s some new thinking about whether these conflicts of interest, are a bad thing. And there’s all this new open payments data, there’s the sunshine act. But all of that really doesn’t involve a discussion about the issue we’re talking about here,” he said.

The information Gellad and other researchers analyzed is public information, it’s just time consuming to search through.

The researchers identified all publicly traded healthcare related companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ. They then searched those companies through the Securities Exchange Commission, the regulating body of the nation’s stock and options exchanges.

Listed companies are required to submit documents every year containing the directors of the company’s board. Those documents contain bios of the board members. The researchers searched those bios and cross-referenced to see if the directors had an academic affiliation.

Serving on a for-profit board crosses the line of consulting, Gellad said. Board members are essentially leaders of the company, deciding on mergers, who will fill leadership roles and they report to shareholders. Board members are not only compensated, but are often given stock options and equity in the company, he said. Those same board members, he noted, are stewards of public dollars by teaching at non-profit institutions.

“If we are going to pay attention to my $15 dollar lunch from a pharmaceutical company, for example, as an issue that we really worry about, then shouldn’t we also worry about these other conflicts?”

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