A New York Times article on June 23rd, Debate Over Industry Role in Educating Doctors, discussed the thorny issue of drug and device companies’ role in medical education. The article was triggered by the University of Michigan which has decided, “based on a review of literature about the influence on clinical faculty of industry-funded CME”, that it won’t accept money from such companies for continuing medical education. As might be expected this decision has sparked a heated debate. On the one hand some doctors argue it will cut physicians off from valuable sources of information whereas on the other hand, others argue that a system in which drug and device companies can fund education will lead to inevitable conflicts of interest. The step by the University of Michigan is to be welcomed. Other medical schools have taken a similar position, for example Stanford medical school in 2008.
Make no mistake, CME is very big business. The New York Times notes that more than a billon dollars go into this type of education each year in the US. And this education of course does not just extend to doctors. In PLoS Medicine last year we published an article by Annemarie Jutel and David B. Menkes that documented the extent of the influence that drug companies have on nurses.
A conference being held today, Prescription for Conflict, at Georgetown University run by PharmedOut out will discuss these issues further. If you are at the conference we’d be interested to hear about the debate.