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Members should “pony up” and run a 21st-century medical society


It was a propitious step to hear from Jeff Weise, MD, SFHM, current president of SHM, speaking in favor of increased transparency for our organization (see “To Err is Human,” October 2010, p. 42).

Encouragingly, when SHM has misstepped, we have corrected our transgressions. We have adopted rigorous conflict-of-interest policies, and we now disclose affiliations rapidly as a consequence—both for our board and for ranking members.

However, I do not believe, as Jeff states, we are the leaders in this domain. SHM still accepts large sums of money from industry, the exact amounts of which remain undisclosed on our website. Additionally, we underwrite our national meetings with corporate contributions, while other organizations have moved forward and shunned this process.1 Corporate sponsorship via branded logos are prominent on our website.

Granted, we are far from alone in this endeavor. Nevertheless, even with full disclosure, the appearance of purity is far from assured, as an outstanding essay commenting on AAFP’s acceptance of monies from Coca-Cola conveys.2

Calls to reform professional medical society practices are increasing, and the new healthcare legislation will begin to mandate recording, and then reporting, of physician-industry affiliations.3

Whether our organization will continue to “lead” on this front is unknown, and a question we must ask is, “Are our members prepared to pay full freight and pony up the costs of running our society in lieu of outside dollars?” I hope at some point the answer is “Yes.”

I for one would welcome full SHM disclosure, front and center, at our next national meeting. Similar to consumer-directed healthcare plan (CDHP) uptake lagging in the presence of opaque transaction costs at hospitals, we cannot change unless as members we know exactly what percentage of our activity others remunerate.

The “others,” as you can guess, are not physicians.

Bradley Flansbaum, DO, MPH, SFHM,

director, hospitalist services,

Lenox Hill Hospital, New York


  1. The American Psychiatric Association phases out industry-supported symposia. American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: Accessed Sept. 21, 2010.
  2. Brody H. Professional medical organizations and commercial conflicts of interest: ethical issues. Ann Fam Med. 2010;8(4):354-358.
  3. Rothman DJ, McDonald WJ, Berkowitz CD, et al. Professional medical associations and their relationships with industry: a proposal for controlling conflict of interest. JAMA. 2009;301(13):1367-1372.

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