WHILE THERE IS nothing inherently wrong in developing CME activities supported by one company — and this funding model should and will continue — CME support by several companies elevates standards of independence, objectivity, and balance to a higher level. Therefore, I think providers should more aggressively pursue multicompany funding of CME activities.

Separating Marketing and Education

When the rules were less stringent and CME topic, content, and faculty selection may have been driven more by company marketing interests than by carefully evaluated and demonstrable need, it made sense for companies to want sole ownership of the marquee. Promotion and education, often indistinguishable, were both used by companies to get their message to selected groups of physicians. But now, through ongoing efforts of the Accreditation Council for CME, American Medical Association, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and other medical organizations, coupled with the policies of the Food and Drug Administration and Office of Inspector General, there have been significant changes within the industry and its educational suppliers.

Promotion and education have been separated operationally and organizationally, with separate and distinct personnel, who are generally not on the same planning teams. In many companies, the professional education units no longer report to marketing and sales but to medical or regulatory affairs. Companies have formed committees to screen CME proposals and activities, all under the watchful eye of the legal department. Some companies require that CME proposals originate from academic institutions exclusively.

More Benefits, Lower Costs

With this level of change, and industry's commitment to independent CME, it is reasonable to assume that companies with similar interests in therapeutic areas or diseases would be agreeable to multicompany-supported CME activity for the ultimate benefit of physicians and patients. As long as CME content is based on sophisticated needs-assessment and evidence-based medicine, activities with multiple funding sources will still offer benefits to funding companies, but without the negative press coverage. This type of funding will also lower costs.

Faculty concerns about the public perception of CME events would be alleviated, making faculty recruitment easier. CME providers would bear the responsibility to assure that educational content fairly address subject matter of interest to supporting companies, as identified through needs-assessment and without company influence or control. Given the scope and diversity of company interests, this goal should be easily achieved.

Multicompany support of CME has the potential to silence many of the more vociferous critics of industry funding of CME. Rather, companies lending support to continuing medical education along with their competitors would be praised for having taken another big step toward producing unbiased education, while allowing learned physicians to evaluate and judge the delivered message. Educational content could then be expected to be increasingly patient-centered and practically applicable.

Support of CME activities by multiple companies offers a winning strategy for industry, providers, physicians, and patients.

Robert F. Orsetti is assistant vice president, continuing education, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark. Orsetti, a 24-year CME veteran, is a member of the AMA's National Task Force on CME Provider/Industry Collaboration. Contact him at (973) 972-8377 or send e-mail to orsettrf@umdnj.edu. To read more of his columns, visit mm.meetingsnet.com.