Stanford Next to Limit Drug Maker Financing of Education

Over growing concern about the influence <"">drug makers have on medical education, Stanford University is expected to announce it will severely restrict industry financing of doctors’ continuing education at its medical school.  Drug makers have long been funding those annual refresher courses that most doctors nationwide must take and while industry claims its money is intended for the benefit of education, critics argue that industry only pays for classes that promote their products.

Following the announcement, Stanford will no longer allow drug and device companies to specify which courses they wish to finance.  Rather, drug and device makers will be asked to contribute only to a school-wide pool of money for use to fund any class, including those never mentioning a company’s products.  According to the Prescription Project, in doing so, Stanford will become the sixth major medical school joining those at the universities of Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Kansas, and California Davis to create such a school-wide pool; the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center banned all industry support for its doctor classes.  Prescription Project is a nonprofit organization that is generally in opposition to industry financing of medical education.  

Dr. David Korn, chief scientific officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said Stanford’s new policy was “an extremely important step forward”; the association recently recommended medical schools contribution pooling to protect teachers from commercial influences.  Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said “America’s pharmaceutical research companies have taken positive steps to help ensure they provide nothing but accurate and balanced information to health care providers.”  Meanwhile, Dr. Philip A. Pizzo, dean of Stanford’s School of Medicine, said that Stanford wanted to take a firm stand, even if it meant losing drug and device company funding for education.  “I want to make sure we’re not marketing for industry or being influenced by their marketing,” Pizzo said.

Dr. Murray Kopelow, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, said that Stanford’s new policy was part of a growing push in medical education to further separate crucial medical information from marketing messages.  “It’s a good plan, and it’s a big deal that a place like Stanford has adopted it,” Dr. Kopelow said. “When this is all over, medical education will not be the same as what it’s been.”

Last April 2007, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican-Iowa, issued a report documenting how drug makers used classes to increase product sales.  In a recent statement, Grassley said, “Reforms based on transparency can foster accountability and build confidence in medical education and, in turn, the practice of medicine.”  Since Grassley initiated his investigation, more and more drug makers have been publicizing their lists of educational grant recipients.  Also, Pfizer just announced it would no longer directly support commercial medical education companies.

Educational classes have long been offered to doctors at no charge and often included a free meal.  Many believe that to ensure no bias or conflict of interests, future classes might require doctors to pay for the classes they take, something some doctors have said they would oppose.

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