In several recent conversations, I heard CME referred to as a commodity. I knew that this wasn't the case … but I took some time to do a little research. According to one Internet dictionary, here are the primary definitions of commodity:

  • Something useful that can be turned to commercial or other advantage.

  • An article of trade or commerce, especially an agricultural or mining product that can be processed and resold.

I realized after reviewing these definitions that CME should absolutely not be considered a commodity. So why would someone refer to it that way? Is it because CME activities, especially those that are commercially supported, often follow the same model time after time? Perhaps, but is this bad? Not if the activity addresses the identified clinical practice gaps of the learners and improves their competence, performance, or patient outcomes.

The Right Direction

So, an industry-supported satellite symposium at a national association meeting is absolutely an appropriate CME activity. Unless it doesn't meet the criteria listed above. Then, I suppose, it is just a commodity.

Wow, I just disproved my own hypothesis! CME may have become a commodity in some instances. But what can be done about it? Who has the responsibility to ensure that CME activities are not “commoditized”? The answer is that the enterprise of CME itself must move away from the “commodity” definition.

CME is moving in the right direction. Point-of-care CME is education in its most empirical form: practitioners realize, at the point of care, that they have an educational need, search for the answers, and use those resources to address the clinical questions. This is education at its finest. And it is credit-worthy.

Performance-improvement CME, by its name alone, implies that one of the outcomes of the education is a change in performance. This is right in line with the Accreditation Council for CME's new criteria in which CME providers must look for a change in physician competence, and/or performance, and/or patient outcomes. It involves the learner in his or her educational process, and facilitates a measurable change. This means that the learners and the providers can each contribute to ensuring that CME is no longer viewed as a commodity.

But what about commercial supporters? They have at least as much responsibility for de-commoditizing CME as do CME providers and learners. The simplest solution is for them to support the right education sponsored by the right providers for the right reasons.

We are at a milestone in the history of CME. We are all helping to move CME toward what it can be and should be. If we make small changes to ensure that the quality of educational activities are of the highest caliber, and we use the newer formats of CME appropriately, we will move away from being commodities brokers and buyers and toward being key contributors to improved education and patient care.

Lawrence Sherman, FACME, CCMEP, is president and CEO of Physicians Academy for Clinical and Management Excellence, New York. A 15-year CME veteran, he is a frequent lecturer on topics related to the strategic development, dissemination, and evaluation of CME activities. Reach him at LS@physacad.com.

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