Monday, August 3, 2009

How should doctors receive education about new drugs?


We have seen so many new drugs and even new classes of drugs emerge over the last ten years. How do most physicians learn about new drugs? Many (certainly not all) community practitioners would say they learn what they need to know from the drug reps. Others indicate continuing medical education or CME activities as their main source of information regarding new drugs. Back in the "old days," docs would also attend many promotional/marketing dinners and social functions to learn about new medications. Those days are ending as PhRMA code regulations get stricter.

So what is the most effective way for physicians to learn about new drugs? They are so busy and easily overwhelmed by their workload that many have a difficult time keeping up with the latest science, the latest medical news, or even urgent FDA alerts and warnings.

Most of the clinical studies evaluating new drugs are performed by the drug manufacturer. Most of the CME activities that include any information related to new drugs are often underwritten by pharmaceutical companies, but the educational content is developed independently to be fair-balanced and is not influenced by industry. You won't see certified-CME activities that focus only on a single drug (maybe the only exception is when that's the only drug that's out there for a specific condition).

If a new drug comes out, do doctors really know how to use it safely and effectively? How can they accomplish this unless they receive fair-balanced education that highlights the clinical utility of such new agents? This becomes especially important when we're talking about brand new classes of drugs that have entirely new mechanisms of actions and pharmacological profiles.

There has been a lot of talk recently about industry-supported CME (certified continuing medical education). Some think that it's a bad idea for industry to support CME. Others feel that the lack of industry support may have a significant negative impact on physician continuing education. Why? Because the availability of fair-balanced educational programs may shrink considerably. What would happen if physicians only get exposed to marketing/promotional messages about new drugs and they don't get exposed to fair-balanced continuing education about those same products?

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