We are now relatively far along the path whereby Big Pharma will stop paying doctors under-the-table for endorsing their drug products overtly or covertly in lectures (see: On the Corrosive Influence of Big Pharma on Academic Physicians; Medical Schools Share Some Blame in Scandals Involving Pharma Payments to Faculty; Details Emerge About Ghost-Written Medical Articles for Wyeth). Here's an excerpt from an article with a concise and accurate title: Glaxo will stop paying doctors to endorse its drugs (see: Glaxo Says It Will Stop Paying Doctors to Promote Drugs):
The British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline will no longer pay doctors to promote its products and will stop tying compensation of sales representatives to the number of prescriptions doctors write, ...effectively ending two common industry practices that critics have long assailed as troublesome conflicts of interest. The announcement appears to be a first for a major drug company...and it comes at a particularly sensitive time for Glaxo. It is the subject of a bribery investigation in China, where authorities contend the company funneled illegal payments to doctors and government officials in an effort to lift drug sales.....For decades, pharmaceutical companies have paid doctors to speak on their behalf at conferences and other meetings of medical professionals, on the assumption that the doctors are most likely to value the advice of trusted peers. But the practice has also been criticized by those who question whether it unduly influences the information doctors give each other and can lead them to prescribe drugs inappropriately to patients. All such payments by pharmaceutical companies are to be made public next year under requirements of the Obama administration’s health care law. Under the plan, which Glaxo said would be completed worldwide by 2016, the company will no longer pay health care professionals to speak on its behalf about its products or the diseases they treat “to audiences who can prescribe or influence prescribing,” .... It will also stop providing financial support directly to doctors to attend medical conferences, a practice that is prohibited in the United States through an industry-imposed ethics code but that still occurs in other countries. In China, the authorities have said Glaxo compensated doctors for travel to conferences and lectures that never took place..... A Glaxo spokesman said that each year the company spends “tens of millions” of dollars globally on the practices that it was ending, but declined to be more specific.
All of this previous mischief on the part of the pharmaceutical companies has spawned a cadre of hyper-vigilant, CME bureaucrats in medical schools. Their task is to ferret out commercial influences in medical conference lectures, armed with complex, lengthy application forms to ensure that the faculty lectures don't favor certain companies. Some medical schools have eliminated all corporate sponsorship of such conferences, a major error in my opinion. I think that we now need to reverse this CME surveillance trend with Big Pharma promising to cut off the emoluments to physicians and the Obamacare Sunshine Act putting the weight of the federal government behind this process (see: Attention Pathologists and Clinical Laboratory Professionals: New ‘Sunshine Act’ Requirements Will Track and Publish Financial Relationships Providers Have with Healthcare Vendors).
I would suggest that we start by simplifying this CME surveillance process. Forget all of the incomprehensible CME forms. Each faculty member participating in conferences should merely launch his or her lecture by disclosing any major conflict-of-interest and stating that the lecture is not inappropriately biased. Unfortunately, I think that this is unlikely to happen for the same reason that governments are unlikely to take any spontaneous actions to reduce their size.