There has been plenty of media coverage of Partner's new rule limiting the amount of money faculty can make by joining a company's board of directors. I am one of those peons who has never been a member of such a high falutin' club and I really don't know what happens at a board meeting.
I did a little research about Pfizer's board of directors on their website. I chose Pfizer because Dr Dennis Ausiello, who is the chief of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, is one of two doctors on Pfizer's board, and I met Dr. Ausiello at the ACRE meeting at Brigham and Woman's Hospital last July. He struck me as a very smart and reasonable person. In the New York Times article, he was quoted as saying that "I’m very proud of my board work. I’m not there to make money. I certainly think I should be compensated fairly and symmetrically with my fellow board members, but if my institutions rule otherwise, as they have, I will continue to serve on the board."
The Times said that Ausiello made $220,000 from Pfizer last year. This seems like an enormous amount of money to me. It's hard to believe that he doesn't do this at least partially for the money.
Under Partner's new rules, you can't make "more" than $500/hour, amounting to $5000 for a typical day's work for a board member. I have two thoughts when I hear this figure. First, it's still quite a lot of money. Second, how much are they making per hour now? On Pfizer's website they say they have four board meetings per year. At 10 hours per meeting, that's 40 hours. I guess Dr. Ausiello was paid $220,000 divided by 40, or $5,500/hour. What on earth was he doing for Pfizer that made him worth that much money?!
Regarding the issue of conflict of interest, I'm willing to bet that Dr. Ausiello is scrupulous about not prescribing too many Pfizer drugs because of his position. But I'd lay the same bet that he never says anything bad about a Pfizer product. If he's reading this blog, I invite him to prove me wrong.
There may be some unique benefit to patients when doctors sit on a drug company's board. If this is true, I say go ahead and pay them the going rate. But if their participation is just so much window dressing for a company that seeks the prestige of an ivy league doctor, then such faculty shouldn't be allowed on the board at all, whether they are paid or do it for free.