Financial relationships among the biomedical industries, physicians, and professional medical associations (PMAs) can be professional, ethical, mutually beneficial, and, most importantly, can lead to improved medical care. However, such relationships, by their very nature, present conflicts of interest (COIs). One of the greatest concerns regarding COI is continuing medical education (CME), especially because currently industry funds 40–60% of CME. COIs have the potential to bias physicians in practice, educators, and those in leadership positions of PMAs and well as the staff of a PMA. These conflicts lead to the potential to bias the content and type of CME presentations and thereby influence physicians' practice patterns and patient care.
Physicians are generally aware of the potential for bias when industry contributes funding for CME, but they are most often unable to detect the bias. This may because it is very subtle and/or the educators themselves may not realize that they have been influenced by their relationships with industry.
Following Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education guidelines and mandating disclosure that is transparent and complete have become the fallback positions to manage COIs, but such disclosure does not really mitigate the conflict. The eventual and best solutions to ensure evidence-based education are complete divestment by educators and leaders of PMAs, minimal and highly controlled industry funding of PMAs, blind pooling of any industry contributions to PMAs and CME, strict verification of disclosures, clear separation of marketing from education at CME events, and strict oversight of presentations for the presence of bias.