Boston-based Pri-Med, a primary-physician–focused continuing medical education provider, recently announced the launch of a new initiative designed to spur innovation in three areas: how CME content is developed, the educational formats it uses, and how it is funded.

“We want to change the focus of the dialogue around continuing medical education from the potential for bias—which, while important, is drowning out what is in essence a revolution in how CME operates and how physicians expect to learn in the future,” says Frank Britt, president and CEO of M/C Holding Corp., which owns the Pri-Med brand.

Flattening the CME World
The Pri-Med Open Network initiative is designed to enable Pri-Med to work with its partners in medical education and the broader healthcare system to explore new ways to approach those three broad areas of physician education, says Britt. “It’s about the democratization of information, the flattening of information flows” by creating a decentralized network of educators, content experts, and physician learners around the world.

This will entail an expansion of Pri-Med’s current collaborations with its partners that will “enable organizations to work off of each other to better meet the educational and informational needs of physicians,” says Marissa Seligman, PharmD, CCMEP, chief, clinical affairs, M/C Holding Corp., and senior vice president of pmiCME, M/C’s accredited education division. One example might be to leverage content around one organization’s expertise in particular disease areas across Pri-Med’s 235,000-plus primary care clinician community. While it is based on Pri-Med’s current platform, the idea is to integrate live events, social media, and virtual learning options to make the information more widely accessible.

Among the ongoing trends driving this initiative, says Britt, are the ways physician-learning needs no longer can be met just by traditional live events; they need to expand to other engagement platforms to enable a worldwide dialogue among frontline physicians. What Britt calls “Google docs”—those who were in medical school when Google first started—will demand these different types of information-sharing models, including social media. Here's why the following three areas were identified as ripe for change:

1. Content sourcing. It’s no longer about having a few experts who educate the many, he says. “In today’s open society, the world of information is flat, and while genius still resides where the few once lived, that’s not the only place you’ll find genius. We believe a flattening in the CME content sources is where we’ll first see change occurring.”

2. Educational formats. Now that only roughly 25 percent of students attend a traditional four-year college, “The definition of education is changing, and so are the formats for professional education,” says Britt. “You’ll still have didactic lectures, just as you’ll still have teachers teaching about George Washington to 30 kids. But the mechanisms for engagement are evolving, in part because there are better ways to do it, and in part because the learners are evolving, too.”

3. Funding. Funding is “a very rife topic from a ‘let’s manufacture controversy’ perspective,” says Britt. “People are quick to articulate what’s broken, but rarely do they describe a better solution.” The initiative, he says, aims to be a catalyst for thoughtful dialogue about how payment and funding models should work. While he hesitates to offer any potential solutions, he does expect the discussions will go beyond the traditional pharmaceutical and healthcare services companies to include payers, the government, and employers, which have a vested interest in ensuring physicians are prepared to deliver solid patient care and improve outcomes.

Keep It Loose
While Pri-Med historically rolls out its initiatives with every i dotted and every t crossed, this time “we felt we needed to listen first, and design second,” says Britt. “We wanted to have enough of an architecture to have a sense of structure and a set of principles, but not to have all the answers, because that would be antithetical to the whole idea of an open network.”

The discussions likely won’t be limited to certified CME, either, he adds. “Learners tell us they want a single source for multiple information needs, whether it’s certified or not. In many cases, noncertified education may be more valuable, depending on what issue they need to solve.” And it’s not enough just to be a source of information, he says. “[Learners] want us to inform them across therapeutic and nontherapeutic areas, and connect them with peers and influencers within their geographical reach.

“We tend to treat clinicians like delicate eggs we have to hand-manage, but the world is messier now. You can’t control the information they’ll see as you could in the past,” says Britt. “That’s why these conversations about the commercial influence on content are just absurd.” While he agrees that there should be monitoring processes, transparency, and disclosure around funding, he says it's important to also explore the other core issues targeted in the new initiative: “how learners are changing, how physicians are changing how they practice medicine, and the best ways to deliver the information they need."