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Tuesday, June 17th 2008

The AMA On Industry Funding of Education

I just got back from Chicago and part of the American Medical Association’s Annual Meeting.

I’ve been very involved with organized medicine over my medical school career.I think I fairly readily admit the faults of organized medicine (and forgive them) and I also realize that my involvement has been mostly, nearly fatuous. Many of my positions exist largely to draw medical students in to organized medicine and not as conduits for the medical student voice in shaping policy. That’s okay, I’ve learned a lot about both policy and the functioning and innards of organized medicine.

I truly believe that organizing physicians and other health care providers and speaking with a semi-cohesive voice is important. Politicians in Washington and the public don’t understand the nuances of fractured physician opinion. Nothing gets done on your behalf up in Washington without a concerted, concentrated effort. Criticisms of the AMA and organized medicine in general are not inappropriate, but if you want change it won’t be by backing out of the system altogether. If you disagree with policy you need to work to change it from within has always been my perspective. Because even as involvement in organized medicine by practicing physicians dwindles, it remains the voice for medicine in all of the places that matter.

I lay all the above out because such is the light I want to look at the topic of industry funding of medical education. When I left Chicago the docs still up there were facing a report (word doc) from the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. In dramatic flair, already championed by several academic institutions (see here for example), the report calls for physicians and medical institutions to forgo industry funding of all educational activities except for certain technical training (such as learning how to use a new device in the operating room).

The American Medical Association wasn’t ready for such. They’ve referred it for further study, while also, in an obvious rebuke, passing a resolution (word doc) in support of industry funding for continued medical education.

Baby Steps To Ethics

The result is a mixed bag. I would hope the AMA would take a leading step towards ethics. As always, I respect the right of physicians and academic institutions to take as much pharma and other industry money as they like. Legislation to dampen such would be appalling. But if the refusal of such money is by personal choice that is an obviously different matter altogether.

Being innovative and adventurous is difficult for any large and diverse policy body admittedly and so I remain hopeful. It is likely inevitable, eventually that it becomes the ethical standard for industry not to fund medical education. We’ll ease into it and the catastrophe of the death of free or cheap continued medical education or that catered pasta dish at grand rounds won’t look quite so disastrous from the other side. Or so I predict.

Photo: Mike Licht / CC License