“IT'S A NIGHTMARE!” That's how one CME provider described the new commercial support process to me. As a reaction to the OIG pharma marketing guidance, legal and compliance departments are now directing funding procedures, disrupting long-standing relationships between sales reps and CME providers, and creating confusing, time-consuming guidelines.
Certainly there were — and still are — plenty of problems in the CME system. But fear of lawsuits and government investigation is driving these changes, rather than the desire to create independent education. Fear stifles creativity and inhibits inventive problem-solving. The measures pharma companies are taking may actually make things worse: In some cases, people who have no experience in CME are now in charge.
As Bob Orsetti says in his column on page 20, some CME professionals within pharma companies are no longer allowed to communicate directly with CME providers to propose or develop programs. How are we supposed to figure out effective solutions if we can't talk to each other?
In the cover story, beginning on page 34, Jann Balmer, PhD, University of Virginia, says that there is something positive that can emerge out of the current commercial support chaos. “We have a real opportunity here to shine the light on the important things, the fact that CME providers and commercial supporters are all moving toward positively impacting physician behavior.”
But it's pretty difficult for CME professionals to accomplish those goals if they're spending their time filling out 15-page letters of agreement. The only way we're going to shine is if we can break through the fog of fear.
I've heard from you that CME leaders are planning to get together to hammer out best practices, so that CME professionals have an alternative to paranoia. Great idea!
Medical science liaison Jane Chin, PhD, recently started a Web site where her colleagues can anonymously air their grievances and support each other. When her (former) employer objected, she said, “Don't you think that a forum for best practices would raise the whole caliber of this profession in the industry?” (See “Breaking the Silence,” page 77.) I couldn't agree with her more, and I commend her for her courage.
We want to do our part, too. In the years I've have been covering CME, I've seen the most productive results come out of face-to-face meetings. That's why I'm so excited that MM is co-sponsoring the Center for Business Intelligence's fourth annual CME conference this June (see page 39). Our goal is to give CME professionals from all sides, as well as medical meeting planners, an opportunity to share their perspectives and brainstorm solutions for how to “shine” in the new regulatory environment. I hope you'll join us, and I urge you to keep talking to us, on or off the record, so that we can continue to bring controversial issues to light. As Chin says, “Misconception and fear go away with education.”