A new ethics policy to guide student and faculty relationships with drug companies at the University of Minnesota's Medical School has drawn praise from a national students' group.

The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) gave the U's new policy a B in a report earlier this month. That was up from a D the last time the grades came out.

AMSA's PharmFree Scorecard reviews 11 areas, including gifts, meals and training provided by drug companies, promotional speeches given by doctors on behalf of industry and interaction with sales representatives.

"Obviously we were always displeased with the D," said Dr. Mark Paller, executive vice dean of the U's Medical School. "But we're pleased with being within an acceptable range of an A."

In the report, the U received kudos for prohibiting gifts and meals from drug companies, and for barring drug companies from providing samples.

Of the 152 medical schools surveyed nationwide, 19 received an A, 60 received a B, 24 received a C, 18 a D and 26 an F. Schools that did not respond received an automatic F.

Five schools received a grade of "In Process" because their policies are being reviewed or revised.

"With all of the compelling data about how marketing influences even the best-intentioned physicians, it is gratifying to see that medical schools are taking the necessary steps toward practicing evidence-based medicine, which translates into better patient care," said John Brockman, AMSA president and a medical student at Case Western Reserve University.

Paller said eliminating drug and medical device industry involvement from the Medical School would be a mistake. "There is true value in having interaction with the research arms of companies," he said.

The Medical School's new policy was several years in the works, and several ethics-related controversies surfaced while it was being devised. Among them: a congressional inquiry revealed that Dr. David Polly, a nationally renowned surgeon who heads the spine practice at the school, was paid $1.2 million in consulting fees by Fridley-based medical technology company Medtronic Inc.

Top of the class

One of the top-ranked schools nationally by AMSA is the University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine, which received an A, up from a D rating last year.

The Vermillion-based institution was hailed for having "a model, concise policy" that requires formal contracts for consulting relationships between staff and industry that must be disclosed to patients, as well.

The Mayo Medical School in Rochester also received an A. The scorecard called Mayo's ethic's policy "exemplary."

Farther north, the University of North Dakota's School of Medicine and Health Sciences received a D. While noting that UND has "excellent policies concerning gifts and scholarship and trainee funds and good policies regarding site access by industry representatives," a draft of new policies was given a D in 2009, and the same grade remained for this year.

Senior Associate Dean Gwen Halaas said in a statement that UND approved a new policy related to conflict of interest and industry support this year. "The response to the [AMSA] survey this year may not have included the changes related to this policy. We have every expectation that the next survey response will reflect the change in policy, more consistent behaviors and an improved education process related to these concerns," she said.

AMSA is a group that represents med-school students, and the scorecard is presented in conjunction with the nonprofit Pew Prescription Project.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752