According to the article, drug companies spent £40 million (equivalent to over US$62 million) on "educating" health practitioners in 2012. Often, the information deemed to be education by drug companies is, in reality, "...just marketing masquerading as education, with the sole intent of influencing doctors," according to Spence.
Spence credits the amount of influence that the companies' dissemination of information has on physicians to its taking advantage of the conditioning of physicians within the medical professional hierarchy to follow orders. Experts are paid by big pharma to conduct commercializable research, publish favorable data, attend and speak at industry-sponsored conferences and speakers' bureaus, give interviews or provide advice on television, advise governments, work for charities, and be members of international guideline committees. Industry marketing, masked as objective education, invades medical practice and physicians' decision making at every level. Additionally, physicians' conflicts of interest with drug companies (i.e. gifts and meals, speakers' bureaus, grants and scholarships, travel and conference accommodation and reimbursement) are hidden from the public.
Spence states that continuing medical education (physicians require continuing medical education (CME) credits to remain professionally accredited) is increasingly beginning to be provided online and the parties providing these CME credit opportunities may come to rely on drug companies for funding.
Spence suggests that:
- doctors could pay independently for education
- education could be made cheaper so that CME credit providers would not have to rely on funds from drug companies
- education should be provided by a national health regulatory agency, independent of industry funding
- physicians could conduct self-directed education groups
- medical colleges and associations that regulate physicians should stop approving industry-sponsored education
- financial conflicts of interest should be quantified by providing exact dollar amounts of payments from drug companies to physicians
See the article by Des Spence: End the Scandal of Free Medical Education