Editorial in the New York Times today regarding drug company funding of continuing education for doctors. Doctors are required to take a certain number of hours of continuing education a year to maintain a license to practice medicine. Historically, universities and medical societies sponsored these continuing education classes. Since 1998 the amount the drug industry has spent on continuing education for doctors has gone from $302 million a year to $1.2 billion a year, a four fold increase. In the past decade the drug industry has taken over providing most of the continuing education for doctors in this country. A quote from the editorial sums up the danger in this trend: “Because pharmaceutical companies now set much of the agenda for what doctors learn about drugs, crucial information about potential drug dangers is played down, to the detriment of patient care”.
A story that goes hand in hand with this item played out in Congress this week. In a hearing before a congressional committee a doctor testified how a drug company threatened to sue him for billions of dollars in stock losses because he talked about health concerns related to a drug they sell.
The makers of Avandia, a diabetes drug, threatened to sue Dr. John Buse because he questioned whether there was a risk of heart problems associated with the drug. A new study published in the New England Journal of medicine found patient’s risk of heart attack could increase 40 percent in patients taking Avandia. It appears, based on these findings, that Dr. Buse’s concerns about Avandia had some basis.
Hopefully, for consumers, the trend of allowing doctors to get the bulk of their continuing education from drug companies will not continue. Drug companies bombard the public with ads for pills to improve your sex life (viagra, cialis), pills to improve your sleep) and pills to improve anything else you can think of. Doctors should diffuse the effects of direct marketing to the consumer, not play along with it. The medical community should police itself on this matter. Physician heal thyself.