Pharmaceutical and medical device company contributions accounted for 28% of continuing medical education (CME) funding last year, according to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education 2017 annual report.
Industry donors gave nearly $740 million to 1,794 accredited CME providers in 2017 — the fourth consecutive yearly increase.
The funding went disproportionately to publishing/education companies, schools of medicine and nonprofit physician membership organizations, which despite accounting for a third of recipients got a whopping 87% of the funds.
Pharmas and medical device companies have long spent big sums on medical education to convince experts and opinion leaders to take a liking to their products. But the practice has come under pressure in recent years with new laws requiring increased disclosure.
"CME is one of the most important marketing tools pharmaceutical companies have, especially as commercial emphasis on salesforces decreases, Adriane Fugh-Berman, director of PharmedOut, told MM&M.
Big Pharma has always been a major contributor to medical education (especially, as this report shows, to providers associated with medical schools or societies), yet commercial support is underreported as advertising, exhibits and in-kind support is not generally counted, Fugh-Berman said.
Patient advocates have been pushing for more transparency surrounding payments that doctors receive from outside companies. CMS has released data on such financial transactions since 2015 as part of the Provider Payment Sunshine Act. Earlier this month, the Medicaid Services Open Payments data showed doctors and teaching hospitals received $8.4 billion from drug and device companies in 2017.
And there is some evidence commercial payments can affect how doctors practice medicine. A recent CareDash study found that physicians who received money from pharmaceutical companies for services like promotional talks and consulting concerning brand name drugs were five times more likely to prescribe that drug over an alternative treatment.
Despite the high spend shown in the CME report, only 10% of CME activities in 2017 received commercial support, making up 18% of physician interactions. The rest received fiscal support through other avenues.
The report also collected data on instruction, clinician interactions and educational activities.
The approximately 1,800 accredited CME providers offered almost 163,000 educational activities to their students in 2017, constituting an overall 1 million hours of teaching.
The 28 million interactions in CME with healthcare professionals included almost 13 million with professionals other than physicians (nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants etc.) — a figure that has increased almost 90% over the past decade.
The 2017 data represents "the highest numbers accredited providers have reported" in the past decade, according to the report.
Accredited providers reported almost $2.7 billion in investment from a variety of sources, including participant registration fees (a majority at 54%), advertising and exhibits, private donations and government grants.
That sum was an increase of 6% from 2016 CME funding — despite the fact that the numbers of medical education providers have been steadily shrinking since 2005 due to consolidation.
And spending used to be much higher. In 2007, it totaled $1.2 billion. By 2013, it had dropped to $659 million but slowly began to rebound from 2014 to 2017.