Brief Primer: Speakers’ Bureaus vs Continuing Medical Education (CME) Programs
Once again: I’ll attempt to clarify the difference between participating in speakers’ bureaus and delivering continuing medical education (CME).
The repeat effort to distinguish the two is prompted by today’s newspaper and blog reports of physician Lawrence DuBuske, who decided to give up his academic gig at Harvard when the institution required him to make a choice between speaking for pharma and working at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Evidently DuBuske earned nearly $100,000 during April, May, and June of last year for giving Glaxo-paid talks to physicians and decided that the pharma gigs were just too lucrative.* In GSK’s second-quarter report, “Fees Paid to US Based Healthcare Professionals for Consulting & Speaking Services,” DuBuske’s services are described as “speaker” and are apparently distinct from any CME honoraria that he might have received through GSK’s educational grants (see, for example, “Grants & Charitable Contributions to US Based Healthcare Organizations“).
A quick Google search shows that DuBuske did, in fact, also deliver certified CME programs last year (see here and here). Published disclosures through one of these CME programs reveal that DuBuske participated in the speakers’ bureaus of 10 drug companies (including GSK) and received honoraria (assumed to be CME honoraria) through grants from 11 drug companies during the last 12 months (at least).
Distinction Between Speakers’ Bureaus and CME
Participation in speakers’ bureaus consists of giving talks that are based on slides and talking points created by the drug or medical-device company. The content of these talks must be reviewed by the company’s medical-legal department and must adhere to FDA guidelines—for example, they must contain so-called fair-balance information. In essence, a healthcare professional who participates in speakers’ bureaus becomes a glorified sales representative (like Daniel Carlat during his speakers’ gigs for Wyeth).
Participation in CME requires either the development of educational content or its delivery to other healthcare professionals. In the case of industry-funded CME, funds are procured by an organization that is accredited to produce CME.** This organization—which can be a university-based CME department, a medical professional organization, or a for-profit medical education communications company (MECC)—then recruits faculty and assists them with the development of the educational content. The organization is also instrumental in deciding the format of the CME program (eg, Internet-based activity, dinner meeting) and enforcing recognized guidelines to ensure the independence of the program. Honoraria to faculty that develop or deliver content are paid by the accredited organization from the industry-supplied educational grant. Critics of industry-funded CME (eg, Daniel Carlat) argue that companies unduly influence the content of these CME programs through their indirect or direct pressure on grant recipients.
Policies of Partners Healthcare Regarding Speakers’ Bureaus and CME
The newly enforced policies of Partners Healthcare, comprising Harvard’s Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals, “ban faculty participation in industry speakers bureaus.” However, policies relating to industry funding for CME only address involvement at the institutional level; they do not explicitly prohibit Partners physicians from receiving honoraria for developing or presenting certified industry-funded CME programs.
Industry funding for “educational programs” (whether certified or not) may only be accepted after approval from Partners’ newly created Educational Review Board, which requires that support for a specific CME program come from more than one company. Also Partners faculty who earn so much per year from a potential industry sponsor (eg, ≥$20,000) might be prohibited from participating in the creation or delivery of a Partners-produced CME program.
* Whether industry will still want to pay DuBuske to speak after his separation from Harvard is debated.
** In the United States, accreditation is most often bestowed by the Accreditation Council for CME.