Sep 16, 2010

People Who Have The Most Expertise ... Are the People Who Work With Industry - Steven Nissen, Cleveland Clinc

The debate over the role of industry funding in continuing medical education (CME) continues on the pages of the Boston Globe this week.  

The article highlights a new company, Lighthouse Learning, that was formed by Dr. Martin Samuels, a neurologist from the Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who has a little experience in the field.  In fact, the article highlights that he was the medical director of M/C Communications until last year "when he said he decided that commercial support created an unacceptable conflict."

The curriculum will be developed by 11 specialists, many from Harvard, who will not be allowed to teach other courses funded by drug companies, "to further insulate them from industry influence."  

And the company's advisory board will also help them keep influence peddling in check. The board includes reputable names such as Dr. Joseph Martin, former Dean of Harvard Medical School, who will review the curriculum directors' other relationships with industry.  

(Note: Dr. Martin was also highlighted in a provocative NY Times article earlier this year which highlighted that under the new conflict of interest rules implemented at Partners HealthCare, Inc., he will no longer be able to accept the >$200,000 per year compensation for serving on the Board of Directors at Baxter International.  Interesting, that he will be watching over relationships at Lighthouse).

Non-MD, Dr. Eric Campbell, a vocal critic of industry, noted that Lighthouse may find it more difficult to separate themselves from industry influence than they expect.  He suggests "that companies can offer to pay doctors' tuition to attend certain courses, thereby exerting influence that way."

Oddly, in the article Non-MD-Campbell is noted for "specializing in conflict of interest" but seems unaware of the pharmaceutical industry's own conflict of interest policy, which states that:

"Financial support should not be offered for the costs of travel, lodging, or other personal expenses of non-faculty healthcare professionals attending CME, either directly to the individuals participating in the event or indirectly to the event’s sponsor (except as set out in Section 9 below). Similarly, funding should not be offered to compensate for the time spent by healthcare professionals participating in the CME event."

The final quote from Dr. Steve Nissen, who needs no introduction, sums up the issue quite accurately:

"The biggest name people, the people who have the most expertise and are going to draw an audience -- they are the people who work with industry."