Former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Donald Berwick, MD, is an eminently quotable guy. One of his bon mots that Louis Diamond, MD, president of Quality Healthcare Consultants, dropped during the opening plenary at this year’s Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions, however, really stuck with me:

“You can’t fatten a pig by weighing it repeatedly.”

In the context of CME, this means that while it’s great we’ve put work into measurement and reporting, it’s now time to focus on performance improvement that leads to higher-quality healthcare. And in fact it looks like that’s exactly what the CME community is doing, to the point where I’m now not entirely sure if I should even still call it the CME community. While there’s still plenty of old-style CME going on, the push toward continuing professional development—finding real gaps to address, researching the best way to close those gaps (educationally or otherwise), measuring the impact on practice and patient and population health, then starting all over again—is getting that strong.

As I sifted through the (I am not kidding) almost 100 pages of notes I took during the conference in Orlando in January to identify the key trends from this year’s Alliance meeting for the cover story, they all circled back to this central idea of CME’s emerging role in quality improvement. Measurement will always be important—otherwise, how will we know the pig is getting porkier?—but let’s turn our main energies to the challenges involved in changing his diet.

And that’s what this year’s meeting was all about. I had the opportunity to sit down with retiring ACEHP Executive Director Paul Weber at the conference, who pointed out that the Alliance has followed the same arc as CME since he joined the organization. In 2007, he said, its education was mainly about complying with the Accreditation Council for CME and other regulator’s rules, and getting grants. Now, says Weber, “The focus is on the quality and results of the education, not who supports it financially.” And this year, while people were interested in learning about the accreditation issues that dominated the conference in years past, the panic seemed to be gone. As the ACCME’s Chief Executive Murray Kopelow, MD, reminded me, part of that may be because the new Standards for Commercial Support aren’t so new anymore, and even the new accreditation criteria have been around for six years. Now we are reaping the benefits.

As Kopelow said, it’s a whole new era, one in which it’s only natural that keynote speakers are talking about CME’s place in the national quality-improvement agenda, and how CME can help the Food and Drug Administration achieve its goals, and what CME can learn from the work of organizations such as the Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality about how to integrate accredited CME into quality improvement efforts. We’ve seen this day coming for a while now, but it appears that the time has finally come for CME providers to fully engage in physician education that actually improves the quality of healthcare.

Congratulations! Now, let’s get to work.

More of Sue's editorials:
Working Man's Blues: Medical Meetings Careers In a Down Economy

The Disconnect (or how we may love our technology a bit too much)

The KOL Is Dead—Long Live the KOL!