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Is Pharma-sponsored Physician Education Biased?

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A conversation with Daniel Carlat, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and Editor-in-Chief of The Carlat Psychiatry Report

Aired LIVE on: Tuesday, July 10, 2007

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Background

In a New York Times Op-Ed piece, Daniel Carlat, a professor at Tufts Medical School and editor in chief of The Carlat Psychiatry Report, characterizes pharma-sponsored Continuing Medical education (CME) as "a new twist on that well-known instrument of corruption, money laundering."

"[CME] content," says Carlat, "is rarely developed by the identified experts. Instead, it is developed by the undisclosed communication company, which is paid by the sponsoring pharmaceutical company." (see "Diagnosis: Conflict of Interest").

"Everybody who stands to gain is complicit in this enterprise," says Carlat. "The companies get a uniquely effective marketing vehicle, the medical education communication companies (MECCs) get millions in educational grants, the ACCME gets funding to continue its mission, hired-gun physician speakers get cash, prestige, networking opportunities, impact, etc...., and the doctors who attend the programs get free education. Who in their right mind would want to spoil the party?

Our patients, for one. Industry-supported CME always downplays the dangers of any product being sponsored. Sometimes, these dangers are trivial, as in the case of SSRIs. Other times, these dangers include diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol, as in the case of Zyprexa.

The point is that we can never trust commercial CME, because of its inherent conflict of interest: it is education designed to encourage the audience to use more of the sponsor's product."

Questions/Topics Discussed

  • Can you describe how pharma companies sponsor phsyician continuing medical education (CME) and why?
  • You say the pharma-sponsored CME is biased. Aren't there regulations and guidelines in place that prevent that? Are pharmaceutical marketers involved? What is the role of ACCME?
  • Why don't physicians pay their own way?
  • What are the signs that a pharma-sponsored CME program may be biased?


Guest Bio

Daniel Carlat, M.D.Daniel J. Carlat, M.D., is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and maintains a private practice in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He graduated from the psychiatric residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1995, has written The Psychiatric Interview, and Drug Metabolism in Psychiatry, and is founding editor of The Practical Guide Series in Psychiatry, published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Dr. Carlat is the founder and editor of The Carlat Psychiatry Report, a monthly CME newsletter. He recently started The Carlat Psychiatry Blog to follow up on some buzz generated by a recent New York Times op-ed in which he recommended that industry-sponsored CME activities no longer receive accreditation from the ACCME.


Additional Resources

  • Visit the Pharma Marketing Events Forum disussion thread entitled "Is Pharma-sponsored Physician Education Biased?" for special offers, additional comments from our guest, comments from other listeners, and access to much more information related to this topic.

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