The buzz at the Annual Conference of the National Task Force on CME Provider/Industry Collaboration, held in October, was all about the FAQ document the Accreditation Council for CME released less than a week before the meeting. The guidelines in the FAQ, which prohibit CME providers from asking commercial supporters for faculty or topic suggestions, and from submitting content to grantors for a medical accuracy review, sparked heated discussion during sessions and breaks throughout the conference. (See story, page 23.)

Here's a sampling of the comments I heard: What was the rationale behind the FAQ? Why wasn't there a call for comment from the CME community, an opportunity to explore the ramifications of the rules, which could adversely affect patient safety? Were the guidelines submitted to the ACCME board of directors and member organizations for approval; if not, why not? This is yet another example of the ACCME reacting to the Senate Finance Committee scrutiny without addressing the real issue — strengthening enforcement of its existing regulations.

I eagerly awaited the hot topics session, run by Murray Kopelow, MD, ACCME chief executive, hoping for clarification. Although he gave an excellent overview of the ACCME's strategic direction, he didn't address the FAQ controversy, or the concerns about the ACCME's new redefinition of commercial interest, announced in August. The Q&A at the end did not give attendees sufficient time to air their opinions.

CME professionals need to focus on moving the industry forward, instead of expending time, energy, and emotion dealing with confusion and ambiguity. Regardless of other differences, the major players in the enterprise share one goal: to prevent government oversight and keep CME self-regulated. Many CME professionals are ready to support the ACCME as it takes steps to meet this goal.

To build on this momentum and drive increased compliance, the ACCME must become much more transparent, clearly explaining the rationale and the decision-making process behind its directives. It needs to create more public avenues for input before and after announcing changes in guidelines. In addition to talking with providers in private or in small groups, the ACCME could hold online forums, such as webinars, open to all stakeholders, to address the consequences of new mandates. A comment section of its Web site could allow providers to post their questions and concerns so that the entire community could view them. The ACCME also needs to ask CME professionals what tools they require in order to implement guidelines.

At CME professionals' meetings, such as the upcoming Alliance for CME annual conference, the ACCME should provide clear and specific answers to questions, as well as facilitate honest interchange. No matter how contentious the atmosphere becomes, it will be healthier for everyone if the controversial issues get out in the open.

The decisions the ACCME makes in response to government investigations will affect the livelihoods and business operations of CME professionals throughout the community. At this critical turning point, the ACCME must take a more productive approach, if it is going to successfully demonstrate to the government, public, and media that CME is a positive force for patient care.