Pharmalot: Why did your organization take this step? Gonzales: It was a little bit of wanting the academy to walk our own talk. We'd like our members to make decisions on medications based on facts and evidence, not on marketing. So it just seemed like we couldn't have a straight face if we were giving that message to our memberes while, at the same time, we're taking unrestricted grants. Also, the national organization relies on pharmaceutical support, but a lot of state academies would like to know how much support they get. There are resolutions introduced every year questioning the amount and we're among the states pushing them on that. So we felt we needed a clean house ourselves. Now, we feel we're in a better position to confront them.
Pharmalot: Why not reject unrestricted grants instead of all grants? Gonzales: The affiliation still connotes we're working with the pharmaceutical industry. If we're putting on a course that includes a seminar on, say, immunization, and we apply for an unrestricted grant and send out 10 applications, we're likely to get responses from companies with some interest in immunization. They may not have applied to support the program the year before and may not apply next year. But the implication is that they wanted to support this program, because they have a vested interest.
Pharmalot: Is your group taking a big hit by rejecting financial support? Gonzales: We're going to find out. We're still putting on CME seminars, of course, but as I mentioned, not taking any unrestricted grants, so we're looking for other financial support. But being pharma-free has actually proven to be a good selling point. We're attracting interest from some health plans and hospital systems, people we've not traditionally approached in the past. It's more work to get those sources, but there are also electronic medical records companies and insurance companies. So it's possible.
Pharmalot: So how is it being received so far? Gonzales: We have our annual conference this coming May (look here for the brochure boasting a pharma-free environment) and I think we'll do alright. We have just three big continued ed conferences each year. And in the past, maybe a fifth of our exhibitors were pharmaceutical companies. So I don't think it will have a detrimental affect.
And it's turning out to be really popular with our members. We haven't had a huge meeting where a lot of people have shown up yet, so we'll get a broader view (in May). I have heard our members won't be unhappy that we won't have pharmaceutical companies in our exhibit hall this year. But for instance, the med school here puts on week-long course on family medicine and invited us on the first day to address the group about what we're doing. And when our speaker mentioned that we were now pharma free, the audience broke into spontaneous applause. That was a good indicator.
Hat tip to The Carlat Psychiatry Blog