Industry Sponsored CME: Controversies Surrounding Pharma Funding

CMEList June 14, 2019

Pharmaceutical companies have always been a major factor in the CME industry. According to the 2017 ACCME Annual Data report, pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies accounted for 28% of continuing medical education funding in 2017. 10% of total CME activities were backed by pharmaceutical funding, and these activities accounted for 18% physician interactions with ACCME accredited CME activities.

While pharmaceutical influence on CME activities has grown over the past several years, so has the concern regarding this influence. CME is a growing industry, and many physicians believe that pharmaceutical companies are taking advantage of this growth as a marketing opportunity.

Pharma Influence Creates Biased CME Content

Major concern physicians have about Big Pharma backing of CME content is that it creates biased content. According to a physician survey regarding industry-funded CME, 88% of clinicians said they believed that commercial support of CME introduces a greater risk of biasPublic concern combined with the threat of government regulation and legal action led physicians’ organizations and the pharma industry to adopt increasingly restrictive codes of conduct related to industry support of continuing medical education. Despite this, the concern of biased content remains for physicians.

Physicians are concerned that organizers of CME activities such as CME conferences will gear their content so that it focuses on specific drugs in order to attract large pharma sponsors and funding. Pharmaceutical companies have a lot to gain by influencing CME content to encourage the prescribing of specific drugs and medication. For example, a pharmaceutical company can influence a lecture at a CME conference by saying a specific drug that will drive revenue for them is the best way to treat a specific medical knowledge. Physicians are worried that in cases like these, CME activities essentially become advertisements and are not fully intended to develop physicians’ skills, knowledge and help lead to better patient outcomes.

Why Pharma Influence on CME Remains

While many physicians, ACCME, and the AMA want CME to be clear of commercial interest and devoid of pharma influence, it is difficult to fund CME activities with pharma support. Physicians have expressed that they are not willing to pay higher fees so that CME activities do not need commercial support from pharma companies. Only 42% of physicians are willing to pay increased registration fees if it meant commercial support would be less or nonexistent.

Without substantial financial support, many CME activities would suffer. CME programs require high costs including administrative expenses, venue expenses, speaker fees, and many more. Many organizations do not have internal funds to support these events themselves. If physicians are not willing to foot the bill for these costs and if there was no commercial support from pharma companies, CME programs could shrink and as a result, lead to increased costs for CME credits.

Pharma Influence on CME Going Forward

While the concerns about bias exist, there have been many measures to prevent this. As previously mentioned, there has been pressure from the government in ensuring that CME content remains unbiased. There is expected to be stringent and continuous monitoring and evaluation of CME events and providers to make sure they are without extreme pharma influence.