The unethical relations between physicians and pharmaceutical companies have made front page news again — this time in The New York Times. The March 5 article, “Use of Painkiller Grows Quickly, Along With Widespread Abuse,” examines the high-pressure marketing tactics Purdue Pharma directed at doctors when promoting the narcotic painkiller OxyContin. These techniques, charge critics, resulted in physicians over-prescribing the drug and giving it to patients at high risk for abusing it.
Sounds like a perfect opportunity for CME programs that teach physicians appropriate use of pain medications, doesn't it? But one doctor who responded to the article raised a provocative point: “The real problem lies with the doctors who abrogate their responsibility for continuing medical education,” Alfred G. Gilman, MD, chairman, department of pharmacology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, wrote to the NYT. “Many do not consult the great abundance of objective information available to them. They prefer the easier, less perfect path: take the samples, listen to the pitch, prescribe the drug.”
His observation bears out the results of our recent physician preferences study, which showed that doctors are obtaining fewer CME credits. The combination of industry's increasingly hard-line product promotions and doctors' decreasing use of CME sounds an alarm for CME providers. It's time to stop doing business as usual — and re-evaluate your CME activities.
In our two-part cover story, beginning on page 34, providers explain how the new accreditation process encouraged them to take an unflinching look at their CME programs and make plans for improvements. The Alliance for CME is also helping providers raise the bar, by establishing e-communities where members can create best practices (see page 8). With your workload already too heavy, probably the idea of taking time for reflection and creativity seems like a luxury — but can you afford not to do it? Even if you're not up for reaccreditation, you can take steps now to make your activities more accessible (see Hank Slotnick's column, page 130), or design more physician-friendly Web CME (see “e-Learners Should Rule,” page 43).
We'll do our part to encourage providers to share successes. A CME program that results in improved patient care probably won't make the front page of The New York Times. But let us know — it might very well make the cover of MM.