HERE'S MY QUESTION: If the Accreditation Council for CME released its draft revision of the Standards for Commercial Support in order to gather feedback at the Alliance for CME annual conference, why wasn't there more opportunity for debate? Instead, attendees were left feeling frustrated and infuriated.

At the specialty society special interest group session, the leader, Damon K. Marquis, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, generated a dynamic discussion by asking for questions on the new Standards. Murray Kopelow, MD, chief executive, ACCME, was in the back of the room — but just to listen. Participants didn't get answers.

Searching for those answers, I next attended a session conducted by Kopelow. I saw people dozing and doodling. Excuse me? A huge change in the accreditation process and some people are barely paying attention! I suspect that was because Kopelow went over the draft Standards without offering more clarification or examples of how the new rules might work in practice. There was a lively Q&A at the end, but there was not nearly enough time to answer everyone's questions. Then, at the hot topics session, Norman Kahn Jr., MD, chair of the Standards task force, cut off debate before it began by announcing that the session was not a hearing about the new Standards.

Aiming for a more interactive experience, the North American Association of Medical Education and Communication Companies' session used a fun case study about a CME activity gone very wrong to examine the impact of all the new regulations — the PhRMA code, the Office of Inspector General guidance, and the revised Standards. Participants were polled via an audience response system, and panelists representing industry, the ACCME, and CME providers answered questions. Terrific format — but since the program was only an hour, there still wasn't enough time to answer many questions about the new Standards and people were once again frustrated. (For answers to some of those questions, see “Mission Impossible,” page 27.)

There's a deeper problem that must be dealt with as well. Participants were afraid of repercussions from the ACCME if they criticized the Standards. As one person said to me, “We're going up for reaccreditation. I'll talk to you on the record after that.”

Encourage Honest Dialogue

There must be a way to facilitate more dialogue and practical, constructive problem-solving at CME conferences. Audience response systems, for example, can be used to poll people anonymously. What if, at a plenary session, participants were polled on their opinion about each aspect of the new Standards? (See “Press ONE for Active Learning,” page 65, for more ideas on how to use audience response systems.) And you don't need technology to encourage people to express their views. At a Professional Convention Management Association/New England meeting I attended on the sensitive subject of diversity, participants wrote their questions anonymously on file cards. The facilitator used the questions to develop role plays and roundtable discussions.

We need to rethink the purpose and design of CME industry meetings. Why should people be falling asleep in sessions and blowing off steam in the hallways? Since CME professionals are educators, I'm sure we can figure it out. Your ideas?