A new report from the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) paints a gloomy picture of how US medical schools are failing to craft policies that keep the pharmaceutical industry at arm's length.

The AMSA's PharmFree Scorecard 2008, released yesterday (June 3), surveyed 150 medical school's across the country, asking about the institutions' policies to limit conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical companies. According to the scorecard, only seven of the 150 medical schools received As, while some perennial physician training powerhouses - such as Harvard Medical School and New York University School of Medicine - received Fs.

But are the nation's medical schools really failing at avoiding conflicts of interest? Perhaps not as badly as the AMSA's scorecard would have you believe.

New York University, like 30 percent of the schools surveyed, simply didn't respond to the AMSA's request for policies.

Harvard, on the other hand, may have gotten an F because its conflict of interest policies didn't mesh with the criteria laid out by the AMSA scorecard. Harvard's bad grade resulted from the fact that it reported to the AMSA that it had no conflict of interest policies that corresponded with the scorecard's specific criteria, according to the AMSA website. Harvard told the AMSA that a university-wide review of conflict of interest policies was underway, but the association could not ascertain that the review would specifically address the medical school and its unique potential for conflicts.

The institutions topping the scorecard included the University of Pittsburg Medical Center, the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Though the scorecard suggests that most US medical schools are failing to prevent conflicts, the head of The Prescription Project, which collaborated with the AMSA in producing the report, said that things can get better.

"The schools that earned 'A' and 'B' scores are to be commended for setting a high bar and aggressively moving forward to ensure medical education, training and patient care is free of commercial bias," said executive director Robert Restuccia, in a Prescription Project release. "While we still have a long way to go, we are optimistic that the growing momentum for reform will change the landscape and there will be great improvement next year."