Every week, there are unique situations that arise to challenge those who make a living in continuing medical education. In this column, columnists Scott Kober and Cathy Pagano invite an expert in a specific area of medical education to
talk through one such challenge in an e-mail format. In this inaugural column, they’re joined by Anne Jacobson, CCMEP, MPH, a freelance medical writer.

From: Scott
To: Cathy, Anne
Subject: CME as marketing?

I recently got a call from a medical writing colleague who was hired by a medical communications company to prepare a slide deck for an upcoming symposium. She said she spent several hours on the phone with the presenting faculty member going over the points he wanted to get across during the talk and picking out the data he wanted to highlight. She felt that the deck she submitted to her client was a fair and balanced representation of the current literature.

A few hours after she sent it off, she got a call from her client who told her in no uncertain terms that the deck was insufficient because it “didn’t include enough information about the funder’s product.” Apparently, this is one of those providers who feel their responsibility is to the funder first and to the learners last.

So my questions for you are these: How would you have responded if this were your client? And why are there still those of us stuck in the decade-old mentality of CME as marketing?

From: Anne
To: Scott, Cathy
Re: CME as marketing?

The writer is in a tough spot. It sure doesn’t sound as if the client wants more disease-state information, but treatment-specific information that positions the funder’s product in a more favorable light. And that’s an egregious no-no.

I would suggest that the writer tell her client to send their concerns regarding the educational messaging to the presenting faculty member. This puts the onus on the CME provider to second-guess the faculty member rather than the (lowly) writer.

From: Scott
To: Cathy, Anne
Re: CME as marketing?

So why do you think we are still running into the same issues with CME as veiled marketing as we were 10 years ago [or as Cathy calls it, her “(cough, cough) early 30s”]?

From: Cathy
To: Scott, Anne
Re: CME as marketing?

Hey, we did some great and valuable education back in the old days! With all the scrutiny of the CME industry, I agree that everyone needs to take responsibility in assuring that education is fair and balanced, and that there is no commercial influence. Going back to the faculty is a good suggestion, but I’d suggest to the writer that she make sure there is no question about the thoroughness of the content she turned in before she ropes someone else into the discussion.

From: Scott
To: Cathy, Anne
Re: CME as marketing?

I like the idea of getting the faculty member involved—he is going to be the one who, at the end of the day, has his name attached to the content in front of his colleagues, so he should have a vested interest.

Anne, as a “lowly” writer who has been in the CME game for a while now, how often do you get those ‘Don’t forget about our funders” nudges from your clients these days, whether it’s before or after you begin creating content?

From: Anne
To: Scott, Cathy
Re: CME as marketing?

In my experience, the “nudging” is very different at the grant stage versus the activity stage. Evidence-based gaps are abundant in all areas of medicine, and it seems like a no-brainer to hone in on certain gaps that also align with potential funders’ areas of educational interest. Once a program is funded, however, my CME clients really do enforce a hands-off approach. I think everyone is terrified of the negative repercussions of bias, and CME companies are bending over backwards to ensure fair balance. We can’t all party like it’s 1999 forever.

From: Scott
To: Cathy, Anne
Re: CME as marketing?

That’s refreshing to hear—it’s always a concern when I hear reports like this.

I worry that these sorts of situations are not as isolated as we all wish they were. As for partying like it’s 1999, I’ll see if I can dig up my “I Survived Y2K” turtleneck. That sort of fashion never goes out of style.

From: Cathy
To: Scott, Anne
Re: CME as marketing?

Scott in a gaudy turtleneck—now there’s an image I don’t need floating around in my head.

Cathy Pagano, CCMEP, is president and Scott Kober, CCMEP, is director of content development at the Institute for Continuing Healthcare Education in Philadelphia.
Anne Jacobson, CCMEP, MPH, is a freelance medical writer based in Cocoa Beach, Fla., and New York.

More Articles on Questionable Calls

Risky REMS Remedy

Joint Sponsoring with a Dietary Supplement Firm

Separating In-Kind Contributions from Exhibits