October 13th, 2010
No Conflict, No Interest
On a brisk, cold evening I boarded an overnight plane from my hometown to Cincinnati. Once I landed, a gentleman dressed in a black suit with a grin over his face was waiting for me at the airport to drive me to my hotel. The driver led me through green untouched pastures and over a river and through bustling neighborhoods. I asked to be dropped off at the hotel prior to going to the classroom and the driver reluctantly accepted noting that I might be late for the lectures.
Some weeks prior, TheCompany Inc. (the names in this post have been modified) had offered me an educational course on atrial fibrillation which I agreed to attend. The driver dropped me off on TheCompany’s perfectly manicured grounds adjacent to a nondescript building. There, I entered a classroom designed specifically for educating physicians. Our first speaker was Ajay, who has made significant contributions to the field of atrial fibrillation. He reviewed slides on anatomy, physiology, and ablation strategies pertaining to atrial fibrillation. He spoke to a group of fellows and community electrophysiologists in the middle of the classroom as black suited representatives from TheCompany sat on either side.
The message was clear: atrial fibrillation is a problem and ablation is a necessary evil. When Ajay was lost for words, he made a quick furtive glance at the black suited representatives, who provided clarification. It was clear the slides he and the other speakers were presenting were written by TheCompany and the message was orchestrated carefully. After several hours of lectures, we filed into a laboratory filled with TheCompany’s devices and tools. We spent many hours working with TheCompany’s ablation catheters and software with Ajay and TheCompany’s representatives by our side. They were all eager to show us how to use their tools clinically.
After two days of listening to Ajay, other prominent electrophysiologists, and TheCompany representatives, I was ready to go back to my hometown. On my car ride back, I was reflective. I was asked to participate in an educational event that was designed in part to showcase TheCompany’s products and in part to educate physicians. What is the role of industry in educating physicians on the clinical use of their technology? As an academic physician, where do you draw the line between your message and one of industry’s? As a participant how do you separate marketing from medicine? Watching the rolling hills of Cincinnati go by from my car, I felt a little disenchanted but confess that I was eager to use what I had learned over the weekend.