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Pharma Funded Continuing Medical Education: A Conflict of Interest

From (believe it or not) USAToday:

Our view on doctors and ethics: Medical conflict of interest

When pharmaceutical companies underwrite courses, trust suffers.

Patients trust their doctors to give them unbiased advice about the confusing array of new drugs and vaccines that hit the market each year. Do they work better than the old drugs and vaccines? What are the side effects? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

In 2007, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $1 billion to cover half the cost of doctors' continuing education in the USA. Not surprisingly, industry-supported programs gave more favorable treatment to sponsors' products than independent programs, an American Medical Association ethics panel found.

The latest stir came last month, when The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that three major groups concerned with adolescent and women's health received sizable grants from Merck, maker of a new HPV vaccine, to teach doctors, nurses and others about, yes, Merck's HPV vaccine. The courses dovetailed with Merck's marketing message and gave short shrift to the vaccine's limitations and potential risks, says report co-author Sheila Rothman, of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

Leaders of the three physicians' groups insist that their courses are balanced and independent. They also argue that no other sources of funding exist for education. But many professionals pay to stay up to date, and doctors could chip in as well.

Education bought and paid for by drug companies is a blatant conflict of interest, no matter what its content. If doctors fail to change this system, they'll lose their most important asset, a patient's trust.

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