Most doctors have to take regular continuing education courses to maintain their medical licenses. But what if the courses have a hidden agenda — promoting the drugs of a sponsoring manufacturer?
That hidden influence has occurred far too often for the comfort of patient safety advocates, who want prescribing doctors to receive fair, balanced and neutral advice in the important subject of what prescriptions to write for sick patients.
Now the group that gives the official seal of approval for continuing education courses is taking tentative steps to curb the drug industry’s influence on these courses. The group is called the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). Its approval is necessary for a doctor to get official credit for any course taken. The head of the ACCME, Dr. Murray Kopelow, told the New York Times he will:
First, make public in the next few weeks a list of the classes and educational companies that have already been found to have broken the rules against commercial bias. This list was previously secret. Apparently there are less than a dozen names on the list as of now.
Second, consider further steps such as requiring the sponsor of a course found to be biased to send out corrective material to the doctors who took the course.
A doctor who is pushing for these and stronger reforms is Dr. Bernard Carroll, who filed a lengthy complaint about an online course on treatment of major depression, which he said was strongly biased by hiding bad information about the drugs of the sponsor, AstraZeneca.
The Times reported:
Dr. Carroll faulted the accrediting council for taking nine months to resolve the complaint, allowing the program to rerun and failing to notify doctors who had taken it. “They’re more interested in protecting the providers than watching what gets put out there as education,” Dr. Carroll said in an interview.
Here is Dr. Carroll’s own blog posting on the subject.
The steps taken so far by the accrediting body are modest, but go in the right direction. Let’s keep watching. As another industry critic, Dr. Bernard Lo, said, it’s okay for the drug industry to support medical education. What’s not okay is to create commercial bias in favor of one or another company’s products.