Adapting to the changing landscape of CME funding

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Published: 17 Dec 2014
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Michel Ballieu - CEO of European Cancer Organisation

Michael Ballieu speaks to ecancertv at the 2014 European CME Forum about the future of Continuing Medical Education (CME) funding, particularly the impact of funding changes on the organisation of congresses.

As the CME funding landscape continues to change and evolve, Ballieu hopes that the industries and scientific societies forming the backbone of CME will collaborate more closely.

Our role is, of course, mainly or even exclusively concentrating on the congresses but we have a series of congresses, of course the one that is called ECCO, which is the big multidisciplinary platform, and then we do on behalf of some of our members we organise their congress also. So that’s our CME activity.

What is the future of funding for CME across Europe?

Clearly when we speak about funding of the CME in the case of congresses it’s mainly supporting delegates, inviting delegates as it is called by the industry themselves, so meaning paying the registration fee, paying the travel and paying the accommodation and maybe some additional meals and so on. That is certainly decreasing a lot. We come from a majority of participants who were invited and supported financially by the industry to now less than 50% and that’s over an evolution, let’s say, that we know now over five, six years, something like that. So it is impacting, of course, the individuals and probably also as a consequence the congresses. However, we are lucky enough to experience this shift of practice from the industry in an environment, in a growing environment, because our congresses keep growing. So there are two lessons I could take out of this: probably big congresses, big in size, are more interesting, more attractive to participants than smaller ones. It seems that it is the case that some smaller congresses that we organise or that we see organised by colleagues are losing in attendance when the big ones are gaining. Secondly there is also the fact that oncology is far to be solved, of course, and unfortunately I use marketing terminology here but we could say it’s still a growing market when you have other diseases where they’re plateauing. So those two factors help us to keep having very performing congresses.

Research looking at commercial funding of CME activities found no evidence of bias – what are your thoughts on this?

That article that has been mentioned during the session came as a surprise, of course, because, as you said, it is a natural feeling that we believe if the industry is paying something, that means if it’s biased, that means they have a commercial interest. It’s probably the case, or has been certainly the case in the past, and in exaggeration. The thing is that I meet more and more leaders or management people from our partners in industry who demonstrate a will to participate, to collaborate without this automatic commercial component. I try to understand that there is something trustable there and it’s all a question of trust, of course. We are very afraid, not only at ECCO but also other colleagues organising congresses, we’re very afraid of having our scientific programme being biased by the industry and we keep building firewalls to protect us from any influence. But maybe we are in the process with all these new rules, new regulations, that are exaggerating in the other way, in the opposite way, of the previous way to work or to act. Maybe we are in the process of gaining some maturity, we all together – the industry and us, the scientific societies, and that there will be, at a certain moment, a point of contact and a point where we can collaborate together for the cause, the cause that we’re working for which is finally getting improvement for the patient. So it’s a hope, at least, that I have but I feel that there is something, some components there, that are designing a possibility there for the future.

What are the key messages for next year’s ECC?

The congress we organised for next year in September 2015 in Vienna, the European Cancer Congress, the particularity of it is that it focusses on the multidisciplinarity. Multidisciplinarity is a word that is commonly used now in oncology by many congresses and by many organisations but because of that I’m adding an adjective and I say the true multidisciplinarity. Because what we believe is that our organisation and the congress that we’re putting together should reflect what the ideal tumour board is, meaning that there is a real collaboration among the different professionals to decide what treatment should be without having an automatic dominance of one of the participants of the tumour board. But depending on the specific case of a patient, it should be then one of the disciplines, one of the specialists that takes the lead for that patient specific. But in a different case it should be a different HEP, a different professional that should take the lead depending, really, on the way the best solution would be designed. In our congresses that’s what we’re trying to do to reflect that model.