Continuing Education (CE) is a big issue in many medical fields and those associated with them. Licensing boards and professional societies often require proof that people are keeping up with current developments and best practices, which is a worthy goal even if arguments develop over how well these systems work.
And it's also been a battleground for fights over commercial conflicts of interest. On the one hand, no one needs a situation where a room full of practitioners sits down to a blatant sales pitch that nonetheless counts as continuing education. But one the other hand, you have the problem that's now developing thanks to new policies by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Thanks to a reader, I'm reproducing below some key parts of a letter that one professional organization, the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, has recently sent out to its members:
In 2006, ACCME and ACPE adopted new accreditation policies that went into effect in January 2009. Most concerning of these new policies is the requirement that CE providers develop activities/education interventions independent of any commercial interest, including presentation by industry scientists. This requirement greatly impacts the Society as industry scientists constitute nearly 50% of our membership and contribute significantly to the scientific programming of the ASCPT Annual Meeting. . .
ASCPT has been left with two options: 1) stop providing CE credit and continue to involve scientists from industry in the scientific program of the Annual Meeting; or 2) continue providing CE credit and remove all industry scientists from the program and planning process. . .
They go on to say that this year's meeting, having already been planned in the presence of Evil Industry Contaminators (well, they don't quite say it like that), will have no CE component, and that they don't see how they'll be able to have any such in the future, since they can't very well keep half the membership from presenting their work. This is definitely a problem for a number of professional organization, particularly the ones that deal with clinical research. They intersect with the professions that tend to have continuing education requirements, but a significant part of the expertise in their fields is found in industry. The ASCPT is not the only society facing this same dilemma.
It looks as if the accreditation groups decided that they were faced with a choice: commit themselves to judging what sorts of presentations should count for CE credit (which you might think was their job), or just toss out anything that has any connection with industry. That way you can look virtuous and save time, too. My apologies if I'm descending into ridicule here, but as an industrial scientist I find myself resenting the implication that my hands (and those of every single one of my colleagues) are automatically considered too dirty to educate any practicing professionals.
To be fair, this could well be one of those situations that the industry has helped bring on itself. I've no doubt that the CME process has probably been abused in the past. (Update: see the comments section. Am I being too delicate in this phrasing? Probably comes from never having dealt much with the marketing side of the business. . .) But there has to be some way to distinguish the old-fashioned "golf-resort meeting" from a clinical pharmacologist delivering a paper on new protocols for trial designs. The last thing we need is to split the scientific community even more than it's split already.