The Association of Black Cardiologists, Atlanta, was gratified to learn that it was granted accreditation with commendation and a six-year term of exemplary accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education after its 2005 audit. Here's some of what the ACCME surveyors found exemplary about ABC, according to continuing education committee chair John Fontaine, MD. Fontaine is program director, Cardiovascular Diseases Fellowship Program; director of Cardiac Arrhythmia Services; and associate professor of medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia.

Align With the ACCME

Two of the six areas noted as outstanding by surveyors were ABC's strong educational mission statement and its sound organizational framework. The two are intertwined, says Fontaine. “We have a strategic planning initiative where we look at the overall goals of the organization over a five-year period, and we try to integrate each component of the organization into the effort to reach that goal,” says Fontaine. In ABC's case, this is reflected in an educational mission statement to provide activities that, by improving physician skills and knowledge, are intended to improve patient care and patient outcomes.

“The surveyors pointed toward ABC's mission statement as forward-thinking, and noted that it relates to both the society's and the ACCME's mission statements. We crafted it carefully to ensure that the educational component complemented the organization's overall goals, and helped to ensure that these goals are met.” He also notes that it's important to keep in mind what ACCME believes is important, not just what's important to a particular organization. “Sometimes, we're tempted to fight bureaucracies, but the ACCME knows what is important in a larger sense. We tried to do the things ACCME thinks are important in conjunction with our goals. This didn't preclude us from doing what we think we should do,” Fontaine says.

The mission's emphasis on connecting physician education to practice behavior change and patient outcomes is something the surveyors specifically noted, he says.

“We've identified areas where minority populations have demonstrated poor outcomes related to certain cardiovascular diseases. We focused on educating physicians about the discrepancy in outcomes, we sought to teach physicians how to identify patients who are at risk, and we also sought to educate the at-risk patients who may not know they are at risk so that they will seek medical attention,” he says.

Fontaine adds that a comprehensive program should include multiple ways of reaching physicians and other healthcare professionals, as well as patients, in order to better identify areas where patient outcomes need improvement.

To increase its reach to patients as well as healthcare professionals, ABC uses the Web, a newsletter, and regional programs — even non-CME programs such as those held in churches and barbershops. And it's establishing an international research library and conference center to concentrate its educational efforts and achieve better patient outcomes.

Be Creative and Consistent

Two other areas ABC was lauded for were its use of innovative planning processes, and its consistent use of needs-assessment data and evaluation tools to measure program effectiveness. Creativity and consistency don't always go hand in hand, but for ABC, they come together in interesting ways. For example, says Fontaine, ABC uses information derived from community programs to give them insight on how to construct the CME activities most likely to teach healthcare providers what they need to know about their patients. “We also use feedback from doctors who are seeing the most needy patients in our needs assessment and in constructing our educational activities. We go looking for populations at risk, where there are a lot of poor people who have a high risk for strokes and renal failure and other complications of cardiovascular diseases. Those are the areas we target as needing better patient outcomes.”

But creativity is balanced by consistency. The ABC's consistency in applying its needs-assessment statements was recognized by the surveyors as one way to help achieve better outcomes by really getting at what types of activities are needed and filling in the educational gaps. And they also approved of the way subsequent programs were built based on the results of previous programs: “The continuity over time was something they noted,” says Fontaine.

“The entire process by which we construct our approach to educating the patient and the physician is aimed toward assessing the outcome we're trying to achieve,” says Fontaine. And this is something the ACCME surveyors noted: “They said that a number of educational programs look at educating doctors but don't look at how you can tell if what you've done is actually working,” says Fontaine. “I don't want to toot our horn, but if the surveyors say we're doing a better job at this, I guess we'll have to believe them.”

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