Cash-strapped Michigan just got even more so with medical education

August 12, 2010

The following is a guest post by Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA Associate Commissioner. The opinions expressed are his own.

As if Michigan didn’t already have enough economic troubles, here’s one more they can add to the list: last month, the University of Michigan announced that it will ban any industry sponsored continuing medical education (CME).

Why? In order “to dispel the risk or appearance of conflict of interest.” And from whom does the university feel it is necessary to distance themselves? From pharmaceutical and medical device companies who want to teach physicians about new and innovative medicines and technologies.

But in cash-strapped Michigan, where libraries are being shut and teachers are losing their jobs, the university can’t afford to reject any kinds of funding. In fact, the Fighting Wolverines currently receive about $1,000,000 for such services from drug and device manufacturers for continuing medical education.

The ban will also reduce the number of CME courses offered at the university. According to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, the university produced 499 CME activities last year, which reached more than 130,000 physicians with important information about 21st century medical practice. The result will likely be less knowledge at a time when knowledge is power.

So, how will the university make up for this lack of funding? Does it expect the taxpayers of Michigan to make up the difference? Unfortunately, this question has been neither asked nor answered. In the quest for academic purity, both physicians and patients have been left out in the cold.

Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic published a paper in January that delved into whether or not support from the drug and device industries created a perception of bias in continuing medical education. After analyzing information from 95,429 physicians who participated in 346 CME activities of various types, they found it did not.

A similar position was taken by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Endocrinology who determined that there is no conflict of interest in the working relationships of physicians with the medical and pharmaceutical industries or the government. Rather, according to both organizations, there is a “commonality of interest” in the relationships that is healthy, desirable and beneficial. Indeed, the collaborative relationship among all three parties has resulted in many medical advancements and improved health outcomes like having fewer preventable diabetic amputations.

Having an “interest” is not necessarily a bad thing — as long as you’re transparent about it. And that’s something for the folks in Michigan to consider.

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The University of Michigan will change course once it sees those funds dry up

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