by Jonathan Vatner | January 01, 2005

IllustrationFor a select group of planners, change is on the horizon, and worrisome days lie ahead. Providers of continuing medical education are girding for a transformation in the way their educational meetings are funded and how administrative details are handled to keep the education honest. It promises to be a difficult transition.
    “There are a number of forces converging that are going to have an impact on how commercial support is provided,” says Sue Ann Cappizzi, a longtime CME provider who currently is acting as a consultant. “We have a new way of business evolving.”
    It’s a new way indeed, and it might well turn the world of CME into an administrative nightmare, say industry insiders. Some fear the changes won’t even fix the problem they’ve been designed to tackle.

Bias-free education
The roots of this story go back to 1997, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a set of guidelines mandating a separation of promotion from education in pharmaceutical company marketing departments. Simply put, drug companies could no longer fund education through their marketing arm, because it might bias the education
toward that company’s medications.
    In 2001, the Office of the Inspector General began to put together a compliance protocol that banned pharmaceutical companies from spending money that would influence doctors’ prescribing practices. A year later, the Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America released the PhRMA Code, which essentially asked those companies to do the same thing, voluntarily. The PhRMA move was intended to broadcast to the world that member companies were happy to comply with the OIG, though its end result was to add another set of rules to the ever-growing list.
    Most recently, in late 2004, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, based in Chicago, released its revised Standards for Commercial Support, intended for CME providers in an effort to keep a program’s funding from biasing that program’s education.
    Providers are just now beginning to understand how all these developments are going to affect them. Unfortunately, most of the news is not good.