by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | June 01, 2007

Senator Charles Grassley

Senator Max Baucus


CME watchdogs:
Sens. Max Baucus and
Charles Grassley

The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance took direct aim at the continuing medical education community in April in a published report that claimed pharmaceutical companies use financial contributions to improperly influence CME programs, making some little more than advertising campaigns to promote their medications.

The detailed 106-page report, which follows a two-year investigation by the Senate committee, found that between 2004 and 2005, 24 percent of 76 accredited CME providers were in violation of standards established by the Chicago-based Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.

Committee chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), in a joint statement regarding the report’s findings, said the committee “concluded that the pharmaceutical industry has focused more on compliance with guidance for educational grants, but risks still exist for kickbacks, veiled advertising of drugs, efforts to bias clinical protocols and off-label promotion.” In addition, they charged that ACCME has not taken a sufficiently active role in overseeing CME programs.

In an April 27 letter to Murray Kopelow, chief executive of ACCME, the committee questioned ACCME’s role in the review and accreditation of CME providers, and voiced concern that the council relied too heavily on information provided by the CMEs themselves, rather than conducting its own research and investigation. “It appears that compliance with ACCME standards still allows CME providers to accommodate the business interests of their commercial sponsors and affords drug companies the ability to target their grant funding at programs likely to support sales of their products,” the letter stated.

The report, and any possible course of action taken by the committee to force new industry guidelines, could have significant implications for medical meeting planners and the CME community, which so far has escaped intense government scrutiny. In 2005, the pharmaceutical industry contributed more than $1 billion to support CME grants as well as medical meetings.

In an online news release to its members posted May 3, ACCME acknowledged that the committee made “content-valid observations” regarding making CME independent of commercial interests, and said that while the council stands by its current process, it will be looking into how to strengthen its accreditation process going forward.