DOCTORS are concerned that pharmaceutical industry support for continuing professional development creates bias, but are not prepared to pay to reduce this influence, according to US research.
The study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, of 770 US health professionals attending continuing medical education courses found that 88% believed commercial support introduced bias, but only 42% were willing to pay higher registration fees to decrease or eliminate this support. (1)
Professor Philip Mitchell, head of the school of psychiatry at the University of NSW, said the research captured the “central dilemma” of how to fund continuing medical education.
“It’s a really important issue. Doctors want their cake and to eat it too. They want less industry involvement but they’re not willing to pay for the consequences of that,” said Professor Mitchell, who has written on the topic of drug company influence, including in the MJA. (2)
Professor Jon Jureidini, a psychiatrist and spokesperson for Healthy Skepticism, said drug companies should not be involved in supporting medical education at all. Instead, doctors should pay for their own education.
“We doctors have to expect to pay for our education like everyone else. We also have to move away from the idea that we can only be educated in first-class hotels. It’s absurd when other professions are perfectly comfortable paying for their own education,” Professor Jureidini said.
Lawyers, for instance, generally undertake continuing professional development which is paid for by their firm, professional society, or by the lawyers themselves.
Professor Mitchell said that doctors did pay for some education, particularly through professional colleges, but removing commercial support entirely could increase the cost and reduce the availability of continuing education.
He agreed with the American research that many doctors would not be willing to pay higher fees for pharma-free education. The research found that health professionals greatly underestimated the costs of these events.
Medicines Australia said pharmaceutical companies had a valid role to play in medical education. “Nobody knows more about medicines than the people who spend years researching, discovering and developing them,” said Deborah Monk, Medicines Australia’s senior manager.
Professor Mitchell said the most important thing was to ensure that the educational content was developed independently of any commercial interests.
Professor Jureidini suggested that a blind, pooled funding model for medical education could be used, provided those who developed the educational content were unaware of specific funding sources.
“Pharmaceutical companies never really say that they provide education in order to sell their products, so if they want to make altruistic donations they could make those to a blind fund that could administer medical education,” he said.
In recent years, Australian regulation of commercially supported educational events has tightened. The details of all hospitality associated with these events are published on the Medicines Australia website. (3)
Earlier this month GlaxoSmithKline became the first Australian company to announce that it would publish the total fees paid to doctors for speaking and consulting services. (4)
Both psychiatrists agreed that this was a positive step towards greater transparency. “I think that’s excellent. It’s healthy because if people are doing the right thing they’ve got nothing to hide,” Professor Mitchell said.
He said he had not been a member of a pharmaceutical company advisory board since 2008 and had never owned stocks in pharmaceutical companies or received retainers.
Professor Jureidini said he had not received funding from drug companies.
— Sophie McNamara
Posted 16 May 2011Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.