Pooled CME Funding a May Be a Road to No Where

Medical societies and other providers have been under assault the last few years for the way they handle commercial funds for medical education. According to a recent article from Medical Marketing & Media, some critics have suggested using pooled funds “to decrease suspicion.” Consequently, “one society exploring that idea got an earful from industry.” 

As MM&M described, “executives from the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) proposed setting up a corporate education fund (CEF) to take aggregated contributions” last week at ExL’s Support for Independent Medical Education conference.

Under this proposal, “an AGA education committee would decide curriculum topics and learning methods. All activities would offer CME credit and would meet all ACCME and pharma requirements. Unlike an endowment, CEF monies would be spent and replenished annually.”

AGA senior vice president Michael Stolar noted that “the fund would refute the perception that any direct funding of an educational activity is tainted no matter what steps you take.” The aggregated money could also be used to fund CME programs that would otherwise not get funded because they lack commercial interest.

Stolar said a “generic fund would also counter criticism that organizations’ offerings are skewed toward what money is available. If required, though, AGA would guarantee companies to produce one program in a therapeutic area of interest to the supporter.” 

In response to their proposal, some noted that the “days of asking companies to provide [associations] with money with no concern for their therapeutic area or business interest are long gone.” Some believe that pharma or device companies would be “loathe to give grants for programs that don’t align with their interests, and, also, that if widely adopted the CEF concept could render well-entrenched grant review systems obsolete.” 

Additionally, “the generic fund would eliminate the time spent preparing and reviewing funding proposals. Medical education and communications companies (MECCs) and pharma company medical education departments spend a lot of their time on that now. And supporters have designed elaborate grant application websites to demonstrate separation of grant-giving from marketing.”
Now that Stolar has heard from industry, he said he is drafting a memo to the AGA’s board—comprised of gastroenterologists in academia and private practice—for it to formally consider. However, he told MM&M that he would be surprised if the AGA will follow through with the proposal.

Ultimately, with various policies in place, such as the ACCME Standards for Commercial Support, PhRMA and AdvaMed Codes of Ethics, and other rules and regulations from HHS, OIG and FDA, the idea of a generic pool for CME funding is too late and unnecessary. As noted above, almost every pharmaceutical and device company has a grant-giving and medical education department entirely separate from marketing, and these divisions properly give independent medical education grants that keep our physicians up to date on the latest advances.

The fact that these medical education departments take the time to review detailed proposals that address specific areas of medicine where patients are suffering is important because it allows for specialization of medical issues to be covered during CME programs. As a result, the current structure of commercial support of CME funding is more than adequate to address any potential issues critics may claim. Instead of bringing up old arguments about conflicts, we should be working together to create CME programs that will address the tremendous health care issues America is facing including diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity.

The more we waste our time fighting over where the money goes, people will continue to get sicker and treatments and cures will take longer to find, and the training and education of our doctors will fail to keep up with the fast pace of science. This will lead to America having to spend more money in the end. We should be working together to get companies, academic medical centers, and CME stakeholders to produce the highest quality medical education that improves patient outcomes. The system we have in place now can achieve this goal. Now that’s left is working together, instead of fighting about the “may’s” and “might’s” that come with commercial support.

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