Does the concept of funding a continuing medical education initiative with grants from multiple supporters make sense? Absolutely. Given today’s unforgiving economic climate, multisupported grants are a reasonable way to share scarce resources. Equally important, at a time when CME is being buffeted by often erroneous and misguided charges of conflict of interest, the presence of multiple supporters is a visible affirmation of the principle most CME providers have practiced all along: commitment to fair and balanced education, free of commercial bias.
It all sounds great in principle. But in reality, the multiple-supporter model can be fraught with pitfalls for providers and grantors alike. How can we make it work better for all of us?
Multiple Submissions = Multiple Headaches
The time a CME provider spends preparing a high-quality, educationally sound grant with measurable objectives has been increased dramatically by the need to submit different forms and budgets for each supporter—some taking just a few minutes, others requiring several hours. The process of submitting a single grant online is time-consuming; multiply that time by three, and there goes the day.
Approved Grants—Return to Sender
The pain isn’t limited to the provider side, though. On the supporter side, after completing the time-consuming grant allocation process and awarding the grant, supporters may face the frustration of learning after the fact that the provider received insufficient funds to fulfill the requirements of the approved grant. If the provider suggests an alternative use of the available funds that does not meet the supporter’s criteria, the money that’s been granted must be returned.
This scenario wastes everyone’s time, drains our collective energy and creativity, and distracts providers and supporters from our shared goals of enhancing physician performance and improving patient care.
But if there’s broad agreement that the multiple-supporter concept is sound, we in the CME community must make it work.
I offer a proposal that features three elements:
1. A collaborative effort to establish multisupported grant guidelines that are acceptable to all parties. For example: multisupported proposals might include an alternate plan if the requested funding is not received. Supporters could approve both plans at once, negating the need for yet another round through the grant process. To determine what guidelines would be feasible, practical, and legally workable, provider and supporter representatives could hold discussions at upcoming venues such as the Alliance for CME meeting in January.
2. Uniform grant and budget templates for all grantors. Why not? We are educators, after all. Why not emulate the college model? To simplify the admissions process, colleges joined in the Common Application; it began with 15 schools and now has 400 member institutions. If supporters adopted a common grant/budget template, just think of the time that could be rechanneled into actual education.
3. Transparency concerning available supporter funds. We now have reports detailing what supporters have funded. Similar lists of available funding would reduce the number of futile “black hole” proposals—and encourage the submission of targeted, reasonably priced proposals to the sources where they are most likely to be successful.
Anne L. Finger, MA, is the executive vice president of Veritas Institute for Medical Education Inc. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not constitute the views of Veritas Institute for Medical Education Inc.