The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education┬╣s new policies, particularly its new definition of commercial interest, have garnered much controversy and raised a lot of questions within the CME community.

Previously, commercial interest was defined as a company or companies that produce healthcare products or services, usually meaning pharmaceutical/biomedical companies. The new definition casts a wider net, also including companies that market healthcare products. The purpose of the policy is to further ensure the separation of promotion from education, according to the ACCME.

The new definition has the most impact on medical education and communication companies, many of which may have to change their corporate structures in order to retain their status as accredited providers.

Complicating the issue, many find the new definition unclear. "I, as a lawyer, read those rules to say, literally, that you can't be a company that's in the business to make a profit," says John Kamp, executive director, Coalition for Healthcare Communication, New York, N.Y. "I don't think that's what the board meant, but we don't know" until the ACCME provides clarification.

Adds Damon Marquis, director of education and member services at the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, Chicago: "I want the definition of product to be clearly fleshed out, but my initial reaction was, it doesn┬╣t bother me at all. If a company has a vested interest in selling these products, why wouldn't they be included?"

This month, the ACCME sought to bring clarity to the new definition and its other new policies when it posted a "frequently asked questions" document. For further information, please click here or visit www.accme.org and view the "Ask ACCME" page.