Several weeks ago, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) announced a new rule banning corporate logos from accredited educational materials for physicians. The ACCME sets standards for the continuing medical education (CME) that most practicing physicians must obtain in order to renew their licenses. Pharmaceutical companies often fund CME, and previously chose whether or not to include their corporate logo on the material.
According to ACCME’s President and CEO Murray Kopelow, their decision was made to “continue the separation of promotion from education.” Evidence-based, unbiased CME is certainly important. In 46 states, doctors are required to obtain CME credits each year, so CME is highly likely to affect physician practice and patient care. From 2007 to2012, according to ACCME’s 2012 annual report, more than a third (34 percent to 48 percent) of total CME funding came from commercial entities; 98 percent of commercial support was from pharmaceutical companies.
To mitigate bias, the ACCME requires that CME include conflict-of-interest disclosures, adverse event information, and only generic names of drugs. But our ongoing research indicates that pharma-funded CME is still laden with marketing messages and subtle biases that bypass CME regulations. For example, positive studies on a company’s drug may be selectively cited over those of competing drugs; serious adverse events may be glossed over while lesser ones are emphasized; or the prevalence or severity of a condition treated by a company’s drug may be exaggerated. These biases are difficult to identify but can create powerful impressions that change clinical practice.
Moreover, it is reasonable to infer that drug companies fund CME because they receive a favorable return on investment.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.