In a "Perspective" in the March 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the authors predicted the decline will continue, with a "sea change toward greater restriction" on commercial funding of CME courses, which doctors take to maintain competence and professional certification and to keep up with new developments in the medical field.
"There is a long history of the pharmaceutical and medical device industries supporting CME," said lead author Michael A. Steinman, MD, a physician at SFVAMC and an associate professor of medicine at UCSF. "This started out with practices in the 1970s and 80s that today would be considered highly abusive, such as junkets to Caribbean islands under the guise of education."
While such overt abuses are now much rarer, he said, the medical industry today provides about half the funding for CME in the United States each year, through sponsoring educational events put on by independent educational organizations.
"Even though the practices are less egregious," Steinman said, "there is still concern that this financial support has the potential to bias the content that learners receive, and therefore change the practice of medicine in a way that serves the interests of industry."
However, wrote the "Perspective" authors, new restrictions on funding have been put in place by both the pharmaceutical industry and physicians' organizations, and several universities have totally banned commercially sponsored CME.
"The train has left the station," said Steinman. "It's not a question of if industry funding will be restricted, but of how and how much."