As an example, in Medscape's current online course called Diagnosis and Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: Performance Improvement, you can see very clearly on the home page that the course is paid for by Eli Lilly:
This tells you that the course is likely to biased in favor of a Lilly product, and that you should hightail your way to a different website. But since it is offering you 20 free CME credits, you might be tempted to take the course. If you do, you will at least know that you should evaluate the content very carefully for bias.
Of course, simply displaying the supporter's name is hardly full disclosure. In my opinion, the supporter should be required to provide more information, including:
--The name of the product(s) marketed by the supporter that might be relevant to depression (in this case, Cymbalta and Symbyax.) Disclosing this is crucial, because many doctors do not know exactly which products a particular company markets, and therefore may not realize how the company has a financial stake in the CME program.
--The amount of money the supporter has paid the educational company to create the CME course. The more money that is at stake, the larger is the incentive for a company to bias the program in favor of the supporter's drug. Did Lilly pay Medscape $100,000 or $1,000,000 for this course? If it was $1,000,000 (and I'm guessing this figure is closer to the true amount), a learner would reasonably become even more skeptical about the scientific validity of the course.
But instead of increasing disclosure, ACCME is proposing a decrease in disclosure. They are, quite literally, proposing that all disclosures get buried in the fine print.
You can read the proposal here. The proposed new wording is:
“The provider’s acknowledgment of commercial support as required by SCS 6.3 and 6.4 under Standard 6 of the ACCME Standards for Commercial Support must only state the name of the company supplying the commercial support, in text format only. Disclosure cannot contain corporate logos and cannot mention or describe any other units within the commercial interest’s corporate structure.”
I assume that ACCME's motivations are pure--apparently it believes that it has already succeeded in scrubbing all commercial bias from CME courses, and that there is one loose end to tie up, which is getting rid of company logos. But the organization has deluded itself. In fact, commercial bias continues to be rampant throughout the CME world, and this proposal will be a great gift to drug companies and their education company sidekicks.
Any MBA will tell you that the best marketing uses advertising that doesn't look like advertising. That way, the customer does not realize that there is a hidden agenda. Commercial CME already is advertising disguised as medical education--this new proposal will make that disguise even more impenetrable.