APA and Pharma-Funded CME Part Ways

May 26, 2009

Following the recommendations of a working group set up to examine the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, the Board of Trustees has voted to phase out industry-sponsored educational programs and industry-supplied meals at annual meetings and educational symposia.

Following the recommendations of a working group set up to examine the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, its Board of Trustees has voted to phase out industry-sponsored educational programs and industry-supplied meals at annual meetings and educational symposia.

In a statement, the APA noted that industry-sponsored educational meetings have “invited a concern that the sessions may be biased in favor of the sponsoring company’s medications.”

Nada L. Stotland, MD, MPH, president of the APA, told Psychiatric Times that the organization’s decision will not affect its other relationships with the industry. “We still receive revenue from [drug companies] for advertising. They will still have exhibits at our meetings. They also sponsor fellowships and research training for minority residents … the board felt that this issue was of greatest concern to most people. We decided to keep education separate from industry support. After the vote, I emailed to our members … I’ve gotten a few complaints and lot of happy responses.”

Stotland said that “the process that resulted in this change actually began over a year ago. Various members have spoken up over the years, voicing concern … about our relationship with the pharmaceutical industry.”

“I announced in March-before I took office-that I would be forming a task force in May,” she continued. Carolyn Robinowitz, MD, said to go ahead.” The task-force members had to face this issue: if we were to contemplate reducing pharmaceutical industry income, what kind of impact would that have on our budget? What would need to be cut? I decided this task force should get all the information and give the board all of their options.”

Pharmaceutical industry support for the APA’s educational meetings has averaged about $1 million per year, Stotland said, or roughly 2% of the organization’s approximately $50 million budget. To make up for the shortfall, Stotland believes the APA must find ways that will streamline its operations.

“Even more important than replacing the revenue is replacing the sessions themselves,” she said. “They often featured very well-known people, and the presentations were put together with a certain kind of sophistication and professionalism. Now we’re going to arrange those [presentations] ourselves, and maybe even charge for them. We might have to raise the registration fee at our annual meeting, which is very low. Of course, we always would be happy to have grants for some projects.”

Stotland continued, “We have over 90 councils and committees … too many to manage. We are greatly paring down the number of councils and committees and learning to do business in new ways. We will have 1 less board meeting this year. And our assembly will take a budget cut as well.”

Stotland emphasized that the board’s action does not reflect general criticism of the pharmaceutical industry. “We have a foundation,” she noted, “that includes a corporate advisory council. They’ve known what we were doing all along. At no point did anyone impugn the industry. We just thought it was better to disconnect the education connection-but not our other relationships.”

Stotland estimates that it will take 2 or 3 years to phase out industry sponsorship of meetings entirely. “This was a big decision for the board,” she said, “because these were very popular sessions. There were some criticisms, but a lot of people go to them, and the meals were a big attraction. Still, the commitment has been made.”