Canada’s college for family doctors says it will review its sponsor and exhibitor policies after some doctors criticized the group for allowing companies to promote homeopathic and herbal remedies to physicians at a national conference.
The Family Medicine Forum, organized by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the largest annual conference for family doctors in Canada, is set to take place in Toronto next month. Vendors scheduled to attend include Pascoe Canada Inc., Boiron Canada Inc. and others that sell homeopathic and naturopathic products aimed at adults and children. Such remedies are controversial because they are not backed by conventional scientific evidence.
Philippe Chouinard, a family physician based in Moncton, started a petition calling on the college to change its criteria for exhibitors and prohibit companies from marketing “obvious pseudoscience to Canadian physicians.” Dr. Chouinard’s petition has received more than 200 signatures since it was launched on Oct. 14.
“You’re going to a conference where you’re expecting to hear about standards of care and best practices,” Dr. Chouinard said in an interview. “Why are we even allowing them to be there? You’re kind of legitimizing the pseudoscience if you allow them there.”
In response, the college said Friday it will start a review next year of all sponsors and exhibitors for its next conference. The vendors scheduled to attend this year will still be allowed to showcase their products, the college said.
Jennifer Campbell, director of conferences and events with the college, said one of the questions they will have to answer is whether they will need to start “censoring” content that is not evidence-based. She said that up till now, sponsors and exhibitors were accepted as long as their products and services have “not been proven harmful.”
The Family Medicine Forum mobile application states the exhibit hall is “a marketplace that provides delegates the opportunity to interact with exhibitors offering a wide range of products and services. Some may be controversial but all contribute to the dialogue that makes FMF a vibrant intellectual experience.”
The app says the college “does not endorse or accept responsibility for the presence of inaccurate or biased materials.”
In a statement, René Kautz, chief executive of Pascoe Canada, said the company will showcase two of its products at the conference. One is a sleep aid and one is used to help achieve a balanced mood, according to the statement.
Mr. Kautz wrote that the products “are effectively used as a safer alternative to many chemical drugs” in many countries around the world.
This was the third year Boiron Canada was set to exhibit at the conference. Daniel Dereser, CEO of Boiron Canada, said the company has to pull out of attendance this year because of a scheduling conflict, but will “absolutely” continue to showcase its products at future health conferences as a way of educating the medical world about the benefits of homeopathy.
Sheryl Spithoff, a family doctor and addiction physician at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, has criticized the college before for allowing pharmaceutical companies to pay for educational sessions aimed at doctors and industry sponsorship of conferences. She said there’s no reason the college should allow purveyors of homeopathic or other non-evidence-based products at its conference.
“There’s no evidence to support it, so why are they getting a booth at the conference?” asked Dr. Spithoff, who will be attending and speaking at the Family Medicine Forum.
Dr. Spithoff said the college should stop accepting industry money altogether, as studies show that this financial relationship can lead to bias and affect how doctors treat patients.
Health Canada regulates many homeopathic treatments as natural health products. Unlike prescription drugs, which require rigorous clinical trials before they are approved, Health Canada may approve homeopathic products on the basis that they have been used for a long period of time or appear as references in textbooks.
Proponents of homeopathy say that its treatments, which are typically made of substances diluted in vast quantities of water, can help relieve symptoms and improve overall health. Naturopathy can include homeopathic products as well as herbal remedies and other alternative treatments.
But such treatments lack conventional scientific evidence. Last year, for instance, the National Health Service in the U.K. advised doctors to stop using homeopathy because there is “no clear or robust evidence to support the use of homeopathy on the NHS."