Why is the American College of Rheumatology barring the media from adding CME?

by Robert Stern, MA, CCMEP

Why is the American College of Rheumatology barring the media from adding CME? In our continuing saga with the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and their oppressive media policies, one of our readers kindly forwarded a letter received by her from the president of the ACR who provides his justification for attempting to restrict MedPage Today’s access to their annual meeting.

For context, let’s begin with the letter from our supportive reader, Dr. Michelle Hemingway:

Dear Dr. Gabriel and Ms. Tilley,

I am writing because I am disappointed in the stance taken by ACR in having given big limitations to the work done by MedPage. I find their reporting of all specialties a big aide in keeping up with issues not specifically in my field so I can answer patient questions appropriately. It seems that this is more of a ‘turf’ war than something based on a real issue — at least from what I understand from your email to MedPage. I know the economy is hurting everyone right now. Research reporting shouldn’t be used as a tool to limit access to the information we all need and that mostly taxpayers have paid for.

Regards, Michelle Hemingway MD

This is the response from ACR president, Dr. Stanley Cohen, exactly as written:

Dr. Hemingway,

Thank you for your note. I understand your points, but here are the facts.

MedPage Today was denied media credentials for the 2009 ACR/ARHP Annual Scientific Meeting because in 2008, it agreed in writing well in advance of the 2008 meeting to abide by the ACR Media Policy that it would not develop CME content based on its press coverage of our 2008 meeting – but proceeded to do so anyway.

MedPage made no objection to those policies last year, which are the same policies this year (and of course the same policies all other media is required to abide by). MedPage Today was welcome to attend and cover the 2009 meeting as a paid registrant as it did in 2008. MedPage was advised of this in the ACR’s response to its request for media credentials for the 2009 meeting. ACR also was concerned that MedPage’s use of ACR’s name and its references to the ACR meeting in 2008 may have created the misimpression that ACR endorsed or otherwise approved MedPage content.

Media access to a scientific meeting confers on it a certain level of responsibility on the part of the media outlet. The ACR takes its responsibility seriously. If MedPage agrees to abide by ACR’s media policies, it is welcome to apply for media credentials for the 2010 meeting. Notwithstanding MedPage’s assertions, ACR as part of its mission facilitates the free and open dissemination of unbiased scientific content to its members and the public.

Stanley B. Cohen, MD
President
American College of Rheumatology

Well, I couldn’t ask for a better segue. Dr. Cohen says that the “ACR, as part of its mission, facilitates the free and open dissemination of unbiased scientific content to its members and the public.”

“Free and open”? Hardly. The ACR’s “media policies” are a contradiction of the spirit and letter of their mission.

And, here’s the irony: MedPage Today’s desire to provide comprehensive coverage of the ACR annual meeting and attach CME/CE credits to the articles is in perfect step with ACR’s mission. You would think they would love us!

Unfortunately, our actual commitment to “free and open dissemination” conflicts with ACR’s “media policies” — or, should we call it for what it is: ACR’s “business model.” Witness this from their published Press Guidelines:

“The ACR has the right to inspect the credentials of anyone registering in the Newsroom and reserves the right to refuse to register any individual as press.

Ineligible Registrants: The ACR does not issue press badges to: publishers or a publications’ advertising, marketing, public relations, sales, circulation, or any other non-editorial function representatives; industry/exhibitor press officers and their public relations consultants; financial or business analysts; educational program developers (including CME writers and editors, and those writers and editors working on behalf of organizations that have written CME based on ACR/ARHP Annual Scientific Meeting content); trade media management personnel; or other individuals who are not actually reporting on the meeting.

Media who produce a communications vehicle that is sponsored by a single organization or whose revenue for the publication or issue of a publication depends solely on coverage of the ACR’s meeting also are ineligible to receive press credentials. In addition, media who produce communications vehicle that uses the ACR’s name or logo to imply endorsement from the ACR also are ineligible to receive press credentials.

The ACR prohibits the development of CME content based on information presented at its meeting.”

Dr. Cohen is correct in stating that ACR’s media policies and mission are about protecting “interests.” Unfortunately, the “interests” headlining his priority list appear not to be about healthcare professionals’ need for information but, rather, ACR’s commercial needs.

In his letter, Dr. Cohen states that MedPage Today was denied media credentials at the ACR 2009 meeting because in 2008 MedPage Today agreed to the ACR’s media policies and then violated those policies.

Well in advance of the 2008 ACR meeting, MedPage Today decided not to be so severely limited by ACR’s media policy and opted instead to purchase a ticket, did apply for media credentials, and did sign a statement agreeing to the media policies. But — and this is a crucial issue — when I and the MedPage Today editors reviewed the media policy, we decided that we could not provide our readers the meeting coverage they expected if we adhered to such severe limitations.

We decided that it would better serve our readers to include CME/CE on our meeting reports. For that reason we made the deliberate decision that we would not use the press room facilities. We would not cover the ACR press conferences. We would not use the wireless service available to credentialed media. We would not cover the meeting wearing a press badge.

Instead, we would cover the meeting the hard way — we paid full registration fees for our reporter. We booked a suite in a hotel adjacent to the meeting venue, and we had our reporter work out of that suite.

This year, we again paid our own way. The MedPage Today staff on site in Philadelphia provided more than 30 reports, reflecting almost nine hours of learning, to rheumatologists and primary care physicians who rely on timely, peer-reviewed, patient-purposeful information to offer the best state-of-the-art care.

Both MedPage Today and ACR receive commercial grants to aid in the support of continuing medical education.

The funding helps MedPage Today provide the necessary onsite staff and electronic resources (video, audio) to give comprehensive, real-time coverage at each meeting we cover.

It is not, therefore, spinning conspiracy theories to suggest that it is to the ACR’s advantage to control access to the meeting. How this fulfills ACR’s mission of allowing its members the best and broadest possible access to the latest medical information in rheumatology is anyone’s guess.

Barring media from adding CME is silly, because it presupposes that MedPage Today’s meeting coverage with CME will cut into the revenues of the sponsoring organization. We have seen no evidence to support that presumption, and we do not believe it to be true.

MedPage Today is the leader in medical news for healthcare professionals and recognized as credentialized media by every major medical association except the ACR.

We are an independent news organization and neither seek nor want ACR’s endorsement.

I would like to close with a direct appeal to Dr. Cohen:

Sir, your advisers are doing you a disservice. Acting on their advice, you and the ACR are engaging in questionable business practices, which reflect badly on the ACR and its membership. Dr. Cohen, if you are sincerely committed to “free and open dissemination of unbiased scientific content” to your members and the public, allow me to make a simple request: practice your mission.

Robert Stern is CEO of MedPage Today.

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