Yesterday, I reported on GlaxoSmithKline's announcement that they would no longer fund commercial MECCs (Medical Education Communication Companies) to produce CME programs. The big question was whether the company would allow academic centers and medical societies to subcontract course production out to MECCs, an arrangement more genteelly known as "co-sponsorship."
I just received the answer directly from Mary Anne Rhyne, GSK's GlaxoSmithKline Corporate Communications Director. Rejoice, all ye MECCs, your loophole is intact!
In this earlier op-ed piece in the New York Times, I had referred to industry-funded CME as a money laundering operation, in which drug companies do not directly pay doctors to give lectures, but instead pay a MECC to hire and pay the doctors. This provides the illusion that the drug company is not involved in the program, when of course the program wouldn't happen without company funding.
With this new brand of CME "reform," both Pfizer and GSK are simply adding another layer to this laundering operation. Now the money will go from the drug company to the academic medical center to the MECC to the doctor.
Over the years, MECCs have become experts at creating a series of dog and pony shows called CME. They have the process down to a science. They know how to make the flashiest slides, hire and manage the best key opinion leaders, rent out the nicest conference rooms, and serve the tastiest food. They make the process so seamless and effortless that academic medical centers are only too happy to hire them to do the dirty work of actually putting on the courses. Under GSK's new policy, I predict that universities will get the big grants and will pass on a chunk to the MECCs, keeping a healthy slice for their own highly profitable CME departments.
Unfortunately, the actual medical education will continue to be slanted in favor of the most expensive drugs and medical devices.
By the way, I also asked for a list of the 20 favored academic centers. The GSK spokeswoman said that this will be posted soon on www.partnersinknowledge.com, their website for grant applicants.