Big Pharma and Continuing Education: Conflict of Interest?

By Unite Here, Special for  USDR

UNITE HERE has launched a national program calling for an end to pharmaceutical influence on Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses. This effort comes at the first anniversary of the Open Payments database, a federal program that collects and makes public information about financial relationships between the health care industry, physicians, and teaching  hospitals.

UNITE HERE, the national hospitality workers’ union, will be gathering petition signatures in over 30 cities across the United Statesthis summer and encouraging the Accrediting Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to end financial ties between Big Pharma and doctors participating in CME courses. Patients, doctors, and members of the public can sign the petition at

All doctors are required to participate in CME activities to maintain a license in order to practice. Most doctors resist money and gifts from drug companies, however, some have taken thousands and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from pharmaceutical  companies.

UNITE HERE’s largest affiliate, Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas is one of the cities participating in this national program.  Hotels in Las Vegas have been a frequent venue for CME  courses.

“Medical meetings are important to our hospitality industry in Las Vegas and nationally,” said Chad Neanover, prep cook at the Margaritaville on the Las Vegas Strip. “We negotiate with our employers to have affordable healthcare.  Unfortunately, this is constantly under attack as healthcare costs continue to skyrocket and pharmaceutical companies are influencing the medical  industry.”

The launch of Open Payments last summer revealed that doctors in the U.S. had taken $4 billion dollars in gifts, cash, or other compensation from pharmaceutical or medical device companies. The ACCME reported that in 2011, the pharmaceutical industry spent $736 million on CME courses, and in 2013, CME activities were a major beneficiary of these types of  compensations.

“ACCME has acknowledged in their own report that ‘CME activities funded by commercial interests can be effective in changing physicians’ prescribing practices,'” said Levi Pine, Medical Industry Researcher for UNITE HERE. “The fact that Big Pharma and their drug money have so much influence on our doctors is unethical and  problematic.”

UNITE HERE is concerned about ballooning costs for its members’ healthcare plans. Prescription drugs, devices, and biologicals are a major factor in rising healthcare costs and the union is concerned doctors may be unduly influenced by contributions from Big Pharma to prescribe more expensive drugs when more affordable, generic alternatives are  available.

CME activities are a vital source of revenue and jobs in the hospitality industry. UNITE HERE has communicated broadly with leaders in medical industry about best practices for supporting good hospitality jobs.  UNITE HERE understands working with the medical industry will help improve the quality of healthcare for workers and their families across the  nation.

UNITE HERE represents 270,000 workers in North America who work in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport  industries.


All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.