"Last year's meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Toronto, the field's biggest educational conference, reflects the extent of corporate sponsorships. In the meeting program, a voluntary listing of the financial ties to drug firms of the physicians who served as instructors covered 14 pages. Some instructors were sponsored by at least a dozen companies."
Drug companies have become the biggest sponsors of continuing medical education courses in recent years, even at the nation's top medical schools, a development that critics say raises health-care costs, skews doctors' treatment decisions and allows the industry to skirt laws against advertising "off-label" uses for its products.
The trend accelerated after the government backed off a plan to limit commercial sponsorships in 2002 at the urging of the industry, Senate investigators said.
Now, nearly two-thirds of the cost of continuing education courses sponsored by medical schools, popular for their prestige, are paid for by drug and medical device companies and other commercial interests, figures show. Overall, commercial sponsors pick up about half of the $2.25 billion annual cost of the courses doctors must attend to keep their licenses.
"Most of what doctors know about drugs comes from the industry, and that's not healthy," said Jerry Avorn, a Harvard Medical School professor and critic of the sponsorships. "Academic organizations lend their names to courses that are nothing more than infomercials."
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