Editorial: Is there a middle ground when it comes to industry support for eye meetings?

September 1, 2008

There may be a great unease among ophthalmologists when it comes to the current relationship between industry and professional meetings including conflict of interest among speakers at ophthalmology meetings, disclosures of such conflicts by speakers, and concern about the "integrity" of these meetings.

Key Points

I know this to be true because a few days after each issue of Ophthalmology Times arrives in your offices, hot off the presses, my inbox is filled with a potpourri of e-mail messages, faxes, and snail mail letters. These communications, from longstanding or new friends (yes, believe it or not, even department chairmen have a few friends) tell me why my comments were wrong, not humorous, non-grammatical, infuriating, insightful (this is rare), or just plain annoying. While these editorials have explored a range of topics, ranging from cooking chicken on the grill to the ethics of lying to patients, there is one topic that consistently elicits the greatest response from you, dear readers.

The topic that motivates most communication, by far causing the greatest visceral reaction compared with all others, is that of conflict of interest among speakers at ophthalmology meetings, disclosures of such conflicts by speakers, and concern about the "integrity" of our meetings. In a nutshell, my sense is that there is a great unease among my ophthalmologist brothers and sisters when it comes to the current relationship between industry and our professional meetings. Similarly, my friends in the business world sometimes express that ophthalmologists in general do not understand what industry is trying to accomplish, lack appreciation of how industry plays an extremely positive role in supporting meetings, and unfairly ascribe negative motives to an industry that is working hard to partner with ophthalmologists to better the care of patients.

If I had to summarize the two viewpoints that are shared with me most often, they would look something like this:

Perspective from ophthalmology

• Companies may generate good products that help us take care of our patients, but industry support for meetings is inherently corrupting.

• Talks by ophthalmologist-consultants are typically little more than paid commercials for the company's products, and it is easy to predict which company's product the next speaker will support in his or her talk.

• Paid consultants have no credibility and should be banned from speaking at eye meetings.

• The name of a company on the lanyard holding one's meeting ID badge turns the doctor into a walking billboard, is insulting, and represents a highly visible reminder of the obvious "sell out" by our organizations.

• Paid consultants make a mockery of disclosure in various ways, by flashing the slide for one nanosecond, or by saying that they are paid by so many different companies that they are really not conflicted.

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