Continuing medical education and pharmaceutical industry involvement: An evaluation of policies adopted by Canadian professional medical associations

Int J Risk Saf Med. 2017;29(1-2):1-16. doi: 10.3233/JRS-170731.


Background: Professional medical associations (PMAs) play a crucial role in providing accredited continuing medical education (CME) to physicians. Funding from the pharmaceutical industry may lead to biases in CME.

Objective: This study examines publicly available policies on CME, adopted by Canadian PMAs as of December 2015.

Methods: Policies were evaluated using an original scoring tool comprising 21 items, two questions about PMAs' general and CME funding from industry, and three enforcement measures.

Results: We assessed 236 policies adopted by Canadian PMAs (range, 0 to 32). Medical associations received summative scores that ranged from 0% to 49.2% of the total possible points (maximum score = 63). Twenty-seven associations received an overall score of 0%. The highest mean scores were achieved in the areas of industry involvement in planning CME activities (mean: 1.1/3), presence of a review process for topics of CME activities (mean: 1.1/3), content review for balanced information (mean: 1.1/3), and responsibility of distribution of funds (mean: 1.0/3). The lowest mean scores were achieved in the areas of awards (mean: 0.0/3), industry personnel, representatives, and employees (mean: 0.1/3), distribution of industry-funded educational materials at CME activities (mean: 0.1/3), and distinction between marketing and educational materials (mean: 0.1/3).

Conclusion: These results suggest that Canadian PMAs' publicly available policies on industry involvement in CME are generally weak or non-existent; therefore, the accredited CME that is provided to Canadian physicians may be viewed as open to bias. We encourage all Canadian medical associations to strengthen their policies to avoid the potential for industry influence in CME.

Keywords: Canadian professional medical associations; Continuing medical education; financial bias; pharmaceutical industry; physician education; policy evaluation; scoring tool.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Drug Industry / organization & administration*
  • Drug Industry / standards
  • Education, Medical, Continuing / organization & administration*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing / standards
  • Humans
  • Policy*
  • Societies, Medical / standards*