BEFORE PREPARING our panel presentation on dealing effectively with the media for the Center for Business Intelligence's CME conference in June (see cover story, page 32), my fellow panelists and I e-mailed participants and asked what questions they would like answered. One attendee responded: Is there any hope that accredited CME providers can be distinguished in the mainstream press from those organizations and persons whom we know are giving the industry a bad name?

It seems that the answer is yes, at least from the example of the online Wall Street Journal article “Venture Offers Classes to Docs Without Drug Firm Conflicts” that ran in March. It was written by Scott Hensley, the same reporter who had previously authored articles that were extremely critical of drug company influence on CME. In this column, Hensley described the partnership between Harvard Medical School and Pri-Med, concluding: “While others debate proper controls for commercial support, they might pause long enough to learn from one method that's already been successful in securing the benefits and managing the risks.”

How did such a positive story come about? I asked Hensley, and he explained that he first became interested in CME after the PhRMA code was issued. While conducting his research, “Several people with very different points of view on CME told me that they were curious about how Pri-Med balanced industry funding and academic-style education. I called Pri-Med and asked to attend one of the upcoming meetings so I could see for myself. The company was kind enough to oblige and gave me unfettered access to [a meeting] held in Florida.” Hensley attended both CME classes and drug industry satellite symposia.

Pri-Med certainly took a risk, and it was well worth it. Since CME is now on the media's radar screen, I suggest you view this as an opportunity rather than a liability and consider inviting the press to your programs.

But how do we deal with unethical providers and commercial supporters who give the CME profession a bad name? Denying the reality and stonewalling reporters with canned PR responses, or punishing journalists who have written negative stories with the silent treatment, only exacerbates the problem. As Donald Moore Jr., PhD, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said during a hot topics session at the Alliance for CME annual meeting last winter, “We need to turn down the emotion on the subject of media coverage.” Instead of media-bashing, he said the CME community needs to gather evidence about CME provider/pharmaceutical industry relationships to ascertain whether the press allegations of bias are correct.

Sounds like an excellent plan. Meanwhile, if you read an inaccurate or slanted article, take action. When Scott Hensley wrote an article criticizing CME, Jacqueline Parochka, EdD, president, North American Association of Medical Education and Communication Companies, not only responded with a letter to the editor, she posted it on NAAMECC's Web site, to give her organization's point of view more visibility.

As Lawrence Sherman, Jobson Education Group, says in our cover story, it's up to us to generate the great stories about CME. It's also up to us to honestly face the problems in our industry and take steps to resolve them.

What did you think of this article? Please send your comments/suggestions to Tamar Hosansky, and include the article's headline in the subject line of your email.