Physicians must earn continuing medical education credits each year to maintain their licenses. These credits come in the form of courses with updates on the latest peer-reviewed findings in medical care. For instance, one doctor I spoke to who works with many Iraq War veterans has set up a workshop to help other physicians identify the signs of PTSD in patients.
Increasingly, pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers have sponsored CME courses. The accrediting agency for CME found that industry contributed $1.2 billion –nearly half of all funding for CME–in 2007. While that number has dropped as medical schools begin to cut down on conflicts of interest, many companies still pay for doctors to attend CME courses in luxurious locations.
A Harvard Medical School neurologist is part of a team that is developing a new CME curriculum free of industry influence. As the Boston Globe revealed in their story, even the founders of this company have ties to another firm that accepted industry money. And their own plan is to sell courses directly to hospitals. Just as with campaign finance, it seems that it’s impossible to avoid any conflict of interest when it comes to the medical field. Maybe the solution is to require more disclosure of funding sources.