Friday, July 16, 2010

Is the Conflict of Interest Tide Turning?

Though we want to imagine physicians as mild-mannered healers, we can’t help but think that some medications would have helped at the recent meeting between folks at the ACCME and the AHA – the one where the ACCME kinda, sorta didn’t reverse its public stance about not letting industry scientists speak at CME-accredited AHA meetings.

Though they won’t admit it.

"We have definitely not reversed course," Murray Kopelow, chief executive of the ACCME, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

One week industry scientists can’t speak at an accredited event, two weeks later, they can? What happened in between? What should have been happening since the conflict of interest issue first reared its head – a conversation among doctors, on both sides of this debate. Up until now, it’s been the purists’ voices who have dominated the conversation. But after the ACCME announced its decision a few weeks ago, people like Francis Collins and Clyde Yancy objected.

“It is a breathtaking sweep to squash something that is really important to us, the science going on in the private sector,” said Collins, who runs the NIH.

It was Yancy, president of the AHA, who met with Kopelow after the ACCME’s sweeping announcement in mid-June. According to Medical Marketing and Media, Yancy told the ACCME that his group had its own “independent peer-review process and procedure for accepting abstracts.” Apparently, that was good enough for the ACCME. The ACCME now will allow industry scientists to speak at accredited events, as long as the accreditor – the AHA, whoever – has control of the information being discussed.  Yancy brought up another interesting point in the MM and M article – he said industry abstracts presented at meetings are far and few between. “Over the last three years, only about one-half of one percent of abstracts at AHA's annual confabs have been presented by industry scientists. … which is pretty interesting when you consider all the hand-wringing that's taken place as of late.”

Did the ACCME cave to big-name pressure? Maybe, maybe not. What this scene reveals is that those physicians who are not happy about being labeled guilty until proven innocent should say so. It also reveals that when some physicians say, “hey wait a minute, let’s use some common sense,” others might actually agree with them.

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