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Interview with Dr. Ben Schaefer, MD, FAAC

NPA Members in Action: Ben Schaefer, MD, FACC, Northeast Cardiology Associates, Chief of Cardiology, St. Joseph Hospital, Bangor, ME

NPA’s Director of Education Ann Woloson spoke with Dr. Ben Schaefer about his role on Maine’s Academic Detailing Advisory Committee.  This committee oversees Maine’s Independent Clinical Information Service.

Ann:  How did you become interested in the concept of academic detailing?

Dr. Schaefer: I’ve been concerned about the influence the pharmaceutical industry has on physician practices for some time.  It is the issue that first led to my involvement with the National Physicians Alliance.  My concerns have been reinforced by news of multimillion (and now multibillion) drug company lawsuits and settlements where brand name drugs such as Bextra, Vioxx, and Avandia were inappropriately promoted, eventually found to be unsafe, and pulled from the market. I became even more concerned as I learned about drug industry sales strategies involving gifts to doctors, resort trips, golf outings, and other offerings which I believe could influence prescribing decisions.

Ann: Don’t physicians and consumers rely on information from industry drug reps to learn about new therapies?

Dr. Schaefer: Doctors and other prescribers are always looking for information on how to best treat patients.  Health care providers are busy and often find it difficult to keep up with every study available on new therapies.  Drug industry information should be balanced – but the reality is that drug reps promote specific products to encourage sales on behalf of their employer.  That’s different from providing information on what works best, is safest, and cost effective.

Ann: How is academic detailing different?

Dr. Schaefer: In contrast to industry sales reps, academic detailers are not trying to sell anything.  Academic Detailing, also referred to as prescriber education, utilizes clinicians who have been trained on the most recent, unbiased information regarding treatment options for common diseases.  These clinicians summarize the science and provide information to physicians on what’s available, what works best for most people, and what is safest.  It’s a useful educational tool that provides busy prescribers with the independent, evidence-based data they want; it’s the information most patients believe doctors rely upon.

Ann: Tell us about your roll on Maine’s Academic Detailing Advisory Committee.

Dr. Schaefer: Maine launched its academic detailing program about three years ago.   The program is administered by the Maine Medical Association in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, with guidance from the Advisory Committee, which is made up of prescribers, pharmacists, public policy and consumer advocacy representatives and state policy makers. Clinicians provide up-to-date information and summarize analyses conducted by researchers who are independent from the drug industry, such as the Independent Drug Information Service of Harvard Medical School.

Maine’s academic detailing program has focused on relevant and important therapies and diseases, including diabetes management, hypertension, anti-platelet therapy, and atrial fibrillation.  A new module on chronic pain management was recently launched.  The main focus is primary care, but that does not mean specialists are excluded. So far, doctors who have participated in Maine’s program have rated it as a highly valuable service.

Ann: Do you have suggestions for doctors and medical students who might be interested in learning more about academic detailing?

Dr. Schaefer: Academic detailing is available in a handful of states. Prescribers interested in learning more about Maine’s program and other programs should visit the Maine Medical Association’s website here:  http://www.mainemed.com/. (We are very approachable and welcome questions.)  Another excellent source is the National Resource Center for Academic Detailing, based in Boston: http://www.narcad.org/

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