SO THERE'S THIS WELL full of money called a pharmaceutical company's marketing department. Lots of buckets dip into that well, including those for promotion and education. After researching this issue's cover story, I can't help but wonder if the OIG-inspired separation of education from promotion within pharma companies will cause the promotional bucket to dip deeper into the well while the CME pail springs a leak.

For example, one person I spoke with recently who works with pharma on both the educational and promotional sides has noticed there's been more action on the promotional side lately. This person noted that sponsorship opportunities — tote bags, bus signs, banners, and other clearly promotional items that are separate from educational grants — are an easier buy for pharma these days.

Well, of course they are. If the sponsorship is purely promotional, all they have to do is fill out an insertion order — they can completely bypass all the paperwork and hassle of CME-related grants since there's no connection to the educational program. As this person said, “It's easier for some of that promotional activity to occur, rather than CME support, because the process is much more streamlined.” Others worry that the funds will start dripping away to direct-to-consumer advertising, or detailing, or other marketing outlets. After all, it is all coming from the same well, and it's not a bottomless one.

It's true that twice as many of those surveyed at the Medical Education Forum last fall said they would increase funding for CME grants (32 percent) as said they would decrease it (15 percent), according to an article in the January issue of the Alliance for CME Almanac. But the same study found 53 percent saying the marketing department still makes most of the CME funding decisions. And the sad fact is, marketing is about marketing, not education.

I'm starting to think that CME needs to stop dipping from the marketing well altogether. Maybe now's the time for pharma companies to dig a new one called “education.” Until they do, I fear that all the attempts to transform the process will just be drops in the bucket.

Sue Pelletier, (978) 448-0377,