As federal agencies begin to implement sections of the health care reform legislation, which will affect the care and treatment of millions of Americans in our health care system, it is obvious that many stakeholders will be required to collaborate and use their resources together to achieve the best results for patients.
One of the key requirements necessary to successfully implement health care reform will be effective physician and health care provider education and continuing education. It would follow then that policymakers and the public should be doing everything in their power to encourage support of medical education and continuing medical education (CME). But for decades, CME has been under attack, faced with charges of bias and conflict of interest when sponsored by commercial organizations. As we have shown, there is strong evidence that such bias is extremely weak (Cleveland Clinic; Medscape, and UCSF).
This has led to government funded agencies, such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM), to declare the need to remove commercial funding from CME. As I highlighted in a recent interview with The Med Ad News Show on PharmaLive, such an approach will be extremely detrimental to the implementation of health care reform, physician training, and patient outcomes. Instead, we need successful policies that encourage well-funded medical education from the government, industry, academia, and non-profit organizations because we will need to treat 30 million more patients, and there simply aren’t enough doctors now to fill that role.
During the first of three discussions about CME I will have with Med Ad News, we began by discussing whether the anti-industry support of CME movement has made it difficult to conduct CME programs. I explained that the movement to prohibit commercially funded CME has helped the CME community overall. It has led to companies and industry changing their policies such as no longer allowing marketing at CME. Moreover, the anti-industry push has caused providers to be more focused on meeting the needs of practicing physicians; identifying health care gaps; and coming up with programs that make differences in patients lives.
Companies have also responded by doing new things such as setting up new CME departments and committees to review educational grants and funding requests. And at least 15 companies now post payments to physicians on their website to encourage transparency in their practices of funding CME and educational activities.
On the other hand, the anti-industry movement has caused downward pressure on funding and the amount of CME being delivered. This downward pressure has resulted in reduced funding on everything: marketing; CME; and representative visits.
Consequently, part of the cause for industry being attacked first came about in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when industry came out against health care reform. Media also played a significant role for associating industry negatively because people were starting to see news stories about the negative side effects or harm from drugs. There was also the rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, which made the public more aware about the presences of the drug and device industry.
Since the attacks on industry began almost two decades ago, the anti-industry movement has maintained the same arguments and has used the same examples. Meanwhile, the CME community, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), and numerous stakeholders have completely changed the CME landscape with respect to commercial funding. But to anti-industry critics, no matter how much CME have adapted, industry funding of CME is still not right. This kind of stance is not constructive because we need every resource we can get to educate health care providers.
In summarizing my comments, I noted that America will need to spend a lot of money to educate the number of doctors and health care providers we will need to treat the 30 million people recently added into our system. While this issue is a great matter of public health and of great public interest, the government has remained silent with respect to funding such education. As a result, we need all the resources we can get, and since our system has long relied on commercial support of CME with great success, it seems only logical we stop criticizing industry and begin finding ways they can help.
Stay tuned for the next two interviews I will be doing with the MedAd News Show, where we will cover how health care reform will affect CME, and how the CME community responds to allegations of bias from commercial sponsorship.