Why do doctors like branded med ed? Topics draw more than drug names

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Pharma's support for continuing medical education has narrowed, due to budget cuts and intense scrutiny on commercial funding. However, so-called branded med ed programs, which are not subject to ACCME rules on independence, have remained a mainstay in many marketers' budgets.

Considering the decrease in pharmaceutical rep visits and doctor attendance at dinner programs, it's not surprising that pharmaceutical marketers would want to invest in these programs. And attendance, by one measure, is high.

A producer of medical meetings aimed at primary care doctors, Pri-Med says that, out of the roughly 55,000 PCPs attending its conferences, 70% (around 39,000) attend non-CME industry-led speaker programs while at its events. These speaker programs, which are clearly disclosed as such, allow manufacturers to have a say in content, unlike certified CME programs, and all of the content is overseen by the FDA.

In a Pri-Med survey of 2,211 PCPs across 15 branded speaker programs, 48% said the general disease area covered in the program was their main reason for attending. Of these, 53% of audience members were drawn to the topic of asthma/COPD but only 8% said it was because of the brand discussed. And about half were drawn to the topic of cardiovascular disease or diabetes, but only 12-15% due to any specific drug. Overall, only 14% said the primary attraction was hearing more about a specific product or therapy, with pain drugs cited most often (35%).

When it comes to these programs, “topics are the draw, not necessarily the drug name,” said Dara Warn, Pri-Med SVP. Learning about new therapies (49%), obtaining perspective on common topics (43%), learning from peers (16%) and the ability to ask questions (14%) were the aspects physicians found most valuable.

The data were gathered through written surveys handed out and completed by physicians as they were leaving branded programs at 12 meetings Pri-Med produced for the American College of Physician (ACP) in fall 2009.

While topics filled seats, speakers' clinical experience and relevance to their practice drove higher satisfaction rates. “If there's an expert speaker, it does mean something, even if you know it's a ‘sponsored talk,'” said one respondent. “The information is much more useful from a fellow physician and I don't feel as limited in the questions that I can ask,” said another.

Lastly, results indicate that these programs prompt action. After sitting through a branded med ed program, 80% said they will incorporate the information into decision-making, 72% will read and research what they heard, and 71% will consider prescribing the product more frequently.

“Scientifically rigorous studies…are best conveyed from one practicing physician to another physician,” said Warn. “That's the general trend on why people are focused on speaker programs. Physicians want to learn from [other] physicians in the same way they were trained in their practice."
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