The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance has extended its probe of pharmaceutical industry educational grants by sending a letter of inquiry to the Accreditation Council for CME. The December 19 letter, available at www.accme.org, explains that the committee is continuing to review marketing practices that influence physicians’ prescribing patterns.

In the letter to the ACCME, the senators said they are concerned that pharmaceutical companies use CME to deliver promotional messages. “There is a significant risk of misleading physicians if manufacturers co-opt CME providers to deliver the message for them,” the letter stated, especially as physicians view CME activities as independent.

In a series of 12 questions, which the ACCME is expected to answer by January 22, the senators ask how the ACCME ensures that CME providers comply with the Standards for Commercial Support, how it gathers reports about noncompliance, and how many providers the ACCME has investigated for noncompliance.

“The information requested in the letter will provide important perspective on the issue and needed information on enforcement,” explains an aide to Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). “The letter should not be seen as a signal that we believe there was wrongdoing; we need to be thorough and gather information from all corners to get a comprehensive picture.”

The ACCME has not been in contact with the committee since an initial conference call in July 2005. While the letter is unexpected, “the ACCME is honored to be asked to provide information to the Senate Finance Committee,” says Murray Kopelow, MD, ACCME chief executive. “ACCME believes in transparency and accountability—so we will share our information, in support of the SFC process. There only can be a positive outcome from this exercise. Either there is affirmation of our process or we identify areas where changes to the ACCME can add value to CME—either way it is useful.” Kopelow adds that the ACCME will make its response public.