A lot has happened to the role of medical education companies since Rockpointe Corp. filed its incorporation papers on October 2, 1995. Once considered an integral part of a pharmaceutical company’s communications strategy, medical education companies had to make some big changes after the Accreditation Council for CME tightened its accreditation requirements in 2006, requiring a total separation between a company’s promotional and educational sides. Some companies decided to just exit the educational end entirely rather than comply with the new rules. Others, including Rockpointe, decided to embrace the new climate and evolve along with it.
recently caught up with Thomas Sullivan, president, and Jay Katz, CEO, of the Columbia, Md.–based company, to get their perspectives on the past 15 years, and what they see for the future.
MECCs Move From Marketing to Education
Sullivan says the ’s requirement that medical education companies completely separate their educational and promotional sides was a sea change for the business. “Moving CME out of marketing and into education resulted in a whole new approach to education. It went from being marketing-focused to being focused on improving patient care … and this is a good thing!”
While the transition period was chaotic—“It was like 52-card pickup,” Sullivan says—in the end it resulted in a more professional adult-learning industry. “It got rid of the people who weren’t really interested in educating physicians,” he says. It also heightened the importance of educational planning and design, and put a stronger focus on the science of CME, from needs assessment and gap analysis through to measuring results.
“Sure, some companies lost money, and companies that weren’t willing or able to make the shift to pure education, and those that just couldn’t figure out how to work their businesses into the new model, may have left,” says Sullivan. “But the end result is that we’re in a much more professional environment than we were five or six years ago.”
But, he emphasizes, while there may be fewer competitors now, the quality of the competition is higher than it has ever been, and this has changed the nature of relationships among competitors, says Katz. “It used to be kind of dog-eat-dog, where everyone was off doing their own thing and you didn’t always know who the competition was.” Now, he says, companies not only know their competition, they also collaborate and learn from each other. “This collaboration among other medical education companies is helping raise the state of the art as well,” says Katz.
How an activity’s outcomes are measured also has changed as a result of the restructuring, adds Katz. “When CME and marketing were done out of the same department, the measures of success were counted in number of people reached and number of scrips written.” Now the measures of success are focused on isolating the impact of the education and how it has made a difference in physician competence and patient health, he says. “The bar is much higher than it used to be.”
From Broadcasting Information to Instigating Change
“When we first started, the business was more about just getting the information out to healthcare providers,” says Sullivan. “While we always had making a difference in healthcare provider practice as a goal, we didn’t have many tools back then to determine whether we in fact were making a difference in patient health. Now we do.
“The Internet has given us tools we didn’t have when we first started. Then we just talked with some doctors and hoped for the best,” Sullivan continues. Now it’s easier to be more outcomes-focused, the Rockpointe executives say. For example, the data for gaps analysis existed 15 years ago in the form of general knowledge of what the macro health issues were, along with the causes of morbidity and mortality, says Katz. “It’s just so much more nuanced now, and we can drill down into much more detail.” Sullivan adds, “Now we can find very specific gaps in patient care in very specific target audiences and deliver education that gives those audiences ways to close their gaps and improve patient care.” As an example, he points to a series of regional meetings his company is holding around the country on hypertension and COPD. They determined which areas had the biggest gaps in these areas, then brought the activities to healthcare providers in that locale.
Communication with physicians also is much easier now, Sullivan says. “We can get firsthand feedback now that allows us to marry the needs we’ve identified with the learners’ interests. Then we can tailor the program to meet both the needs and interests of practitioners in a local area, so we can be sure they’ll actually show up. That’s something we couldn’t do 15 years ago.”
Katz says that while the first five years of Rockpointe’s history was about the application of broadcast technology in medical education to reach large numbers of people, the decade since then has been more about building the company’s science and content-generation capabilities so that it could be the source of the content it distributes, rather than the distributor of content that was developed by others. In addition, the last five-year period has centered on building the company’s CME capabilities so its business is focused exclusively on providing accredited education. “Compliance with the new rules, keeping a step ahead of the requirements and regulations, advising supporters and partners about the importance of compliance—these are all things that have evolved in the past five years, in addition to the evolution of our science and content-development capabilities,” says Katz.
Costs Versus Value
Commercial support of CME also has been under increasing scrutiny and criticism over the 15 years of Rockpointe’s existence, and the proper role of commercial support is still evolving, says Katz. For example, Rockpointe is involved with several large-scale, multiactivity initiatives chaired by top university and government officials. These initiatives are initially funded by commercial support, often provided by several supporters. But once the initiatives are under way, they’re finding that employer groups and government agencies are seeing the value, and are willing to contribute to expand the initiatives. “So commercial support is the seed money used to create an initiative, then others want to step in to expand the support once the value becomes evident,” says Katz.
One of the ongoing challenges Sullivan sees is the negative publicity around commercial support and how it has caused some in industry to pull back. But, he says, “as more people see the value, we’ll see more opportunities.” To help make that value apparent, Rockpointe includes some level of outcomes measurement in every activity, and it is publishing its outcomes in both CME and clinical literature, and presenting it at conferences. “We’re trying to share what we’ve learned,” says Katz.
When medical education was separated from the overall communications strategy of companies, CME became a separate piece without a voice. Citing Sullivan’s Policy and Medicine blog, Katz says the community needs to do more to defend the role of CME.
“Our near-term opportunity is to demonstrate the impact and value of CME so that it becomes a shared responsibility between industry, employers, government, payers, and individuals.”