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For physicians, another option on education

The Boston Globe, September 14, 2010

Last week, Dr. Martin Samuels received a dinner invitation in the mail: He was invited to The Palm steakhouse to hear a Columbia University specialist discuss novel treatments for multiple sclerosis — and to earn continuing medical education credits.

But Samuels will not be attending. The class, he said, is not education, but subtle marketing by Teva Neuroscience, a pharmaceutical maker that sells a leading multiple sclerosis drug and, according to the fine print, is paying for the evening.

It is just this type of program that led Samuels, a Harvard Medical School neurologist, to start a new company that he says will provide continuing medical education to doctors across the country — without funding from the pharmaceutical industry.

“Doctors have lost confidence in [continuing medical education] and the public has lost confidence,’’ said Samuels, who sees patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he heads the neurology division. “The feeling is that everything is tainted. We simply must have a new way of doing this.’’ The company’s formation will be announced today.

The venture is the latest development in an escalating national debate over the system for educating physicians. States require physicians to take continuing education courses to retain their medical licenses, but doctors often pay little or nothing for the instruction because many of the companies that offer it are partly funded by makers of drugs and medical devices. Samuels himself worked part time for such a company until last year, when he said he decided that commercial support created an unacceptable conflict.