President's Message

Paul Sawchuk, MD, MBA, CCFP, FCFP

Assessing our movement away from industry funding

Physicians have always had to navigate their interactions with the pharmaceutical industry carefully. We have seen how drug companies tried to influence prescribing not only by providing product information, but also by offering lavish dinners and plentiful “free” samples. When I participated in these events I felt I brought an appropriate amount of skepticism with me and that my prescribing habits would not be altered unduly. In retrospect, while some of us may have been impervious to the marketing, the drug companies would never have used these tactics so regularly and for so long had they not been effective.

When I look back at that era now, I consider the opioid epidemic. I can’t help but think industry marketing affected our collective approach to chronic pain. Too much research and emphasis on long-acting opioids, not enough on non-pharmaceutical approaches. I think most of us would agree that our historical relationship with the pharmaceutical industry was too close. But how should we move forward?

The CFPC recently sent you a report titled Management of Relationships With the Health Care/Pharmaceutical Industry. This document summarizes our current involvement with the pharmaceutical industry. You can also read a commentary on this report by Dr. Francine Lemire and Dr. Jeff Sisler in the January edition of Canadian Family Physician.

The CFPC is working to minimize the influence that commercial interests have on the continuing professional development (CPD) and practices of family physicians. For example, in 2018 the College helped develop and implement the National Standard for Support of Accredited CPD Activities. The standard is designed to ensure certified CPD activities are shielded from the influence of sponsoring organizations, in particular those from the pharma industry. The CFPC takes pride in this important change.

However, there are additional steps we could take. On the higher end of the cost spectrum, eliminating HPI exhibitors from Family Medicine Forum would cause registration fees to increase; as Francine and Jeff noted in their article, most attendees did not support this approach in our 2018 survey. On the lower end of the cost spectrum, it has been estimated that our journal could be free of pharmaceutical industry advertising at a cost of approximately five dollars per month per member. Is this a step our membership is prepared to take? I am interested in hearing your views. Please contact me at [email protected].

I know some of our members think the medical profession is not distancing itself far enough or fast enough from industry, while others feel we are going too far, too fast. Even if there is room for constructive debate over the speed of our current movement, we can be confident we are moving in the right direction.


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