recently caught up with Murry Kopelow, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for CME, to learn what was behind the decision to hire its first-ever director of communications—Tamar Hosansky, who left her post as editor of this magazine to join the team in June. Kopelow explained that creating the position is part of a long-term plan to better connect and communicate with all the organization’s stakeholders, from its member organizations to accredited CME providers to physician learners and, ultimately, the public.
MM: What are your goals for ACCME’s new director of communications?
Kopelow: Our goal is to establish a flow of information within ACCME and between ACCME and our external stakeholders that makes the case for CME as a bridge for quality, for CME as a strategic asset for everyone who’s interested in healthcare quality improvement. Also, we want to make it clear that ACCME is on the trajectory for change. We’re not just making multiple unconnected or disconnected actions or proposals. For example, we did a series of calls-for-comment regarding commercial support, starting with a large-scale proposal in 2008 that included a discussion about eliminating commercial support, down to the more precise tactics we proposed earlier this year that included ideas for an independent third-party funding organization or for a label for commercial-support-free CME. That was a trajectory from a large idea to more focused ones. Those would be examples of the kinds of challenges that a director of communications can help ACCME to better communicate the bigger picture.
We believe that timely, understandable, targeted information from ACCME is essential, and we needed expert help. So we reached out to Tamar.
MM: Is adding this position part of a larger transformation on ACCME’s part toward increased transparency?
Kopelow: Transparency in itself is an ACCME objective—to remove opaqueness and shine a light on things. We announced this goal in July 2008 and reiterated it in communications to providers in January of this year. For example, with our new rule-making policy, ACCME is increasing transparency so that people can watch the process of policy change unfold and participate in it.
The other way we are becoming more transparent is to publish more information about our accredited providers than we have in the past. Starting in August 2009, we are posting more information about each of our accredited providers on our Web site so people can see what a provider’s accreditation status is and they can understand the scope of an accredited provider’s program of CME. We are also going to publish whether a provider has received commercial support or funding for advertising and exhibits.
In addition, we have posted in the public documents area of our Web site the success of our providers in meeting the new 2006 Accreditation Criteria. Over the last few years there were a lot of challenges over whether or not providers would be able to identify practice gaps and identify needs based on those gaps: 70 percent to 75 percent of our providers are in compliance with that element. The same is true on the other end with evaluating in terms of competence, performance, or patient outcomes, with 70 percent to 75 percent being in compliance. [In both cases,] the ones who are not in compliance just did not [understand the new criteria] and needed a little more instruction from us, [or] were still using the old criteria, [or] had decided to make the change at a later date. But it looks like providers will be able to make those changes.
The data we released also shows the number of providers on probation. [Until now] probation was given to providers who had an overall failure to meet the accreditation requirements, but we are also putting on probation [providers] whose noncompliance with the Standards for Commercial Support recur. If they still don’t change, they will lose their accreditation, because the CME system will not accept organizations that are not compliant with the Standards for Commercial Support.
MM: Why not go really transparent and provide the amounts of commercial support each provider receives?
Kopelow: ACCME publishes information on amounts of commercial support received, broken down by provider types—but not by individual provider. Also, we now identify which providers receive commercial support, which providers receive funds for advertising and exhibits, and which do not. Within our accreditation process we have no de minimus requirements –meaning that no amount of commercial support is too small to be disclosured--and the presence of relevant financial relationships should also be disclosed to learners in CME activities. The providers, and ACCME, could consider and discuss the disclosure of more information if that would add value to our system.
MM: ACCME also seems to be making a lot of new educational outreach efforts, for example, with its new regional forums being held in collaboration with various state medical societies to discuss best practices for establishing CME programs that meet ACCME’s accreditation requirements. What is your goal with this piece of your communications strategy?
Kopelow: The board of directors asked that we expand our efforts at supporting the understanding of all elements of the ACCME system, as well as professional development, and education. We have been very pleased with the success of our regional forums in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Chicago where we have met with over 150 accredited providers and leaders from our recognized state medical societies. In addition, we have had town hall meetings and small group discussions here in Chicago with representatives of commercial interests and a range of CME professionals. Our goal is to ensure those who need to understand our accreditation requirements have an opportunity to speak directly to ACCME about ACCME’s expectations.
MM: Since one of ACCME’s ultimate stakeholders is the public, are you also looking to increase ACCME’s voice in public debates?
Kopelow: We want to be sure that those who are discussing accredited CME, and the future of CME, have accurate and complete information about our system. ACCME’s new multimedia site can be a tool for educating the public about the value of accredited CME, as well as an educational resource for providers. We expect that CME will continue to be under scrutiny. CME and its impact will always be important to those who have oversight responsibilities. We’ve promised to be able to identify whether commercial bias is or is not present in CME, and I believe we’ll be held to that promise.
MM: Is the provider database you mentioned earlier a part of holding to that promise?
Kopelow: Yes, the ACCME Activity & Program Reporting System is a database for CME accreditors—ACCME and the state medical societies—and it is part of our surveillance plans. In this database we will aggregate information describing CME activities that accreditors need for accreditation documentation review and for generating annual reports. ACCME also is going to repurpose the information for our own surveillance and monitoring efforts. Our promise was that we would start to look directly at educational activities to see if the Standards for Commercial Support are met, and to have people at the activity taking measure of provider compliance. We will roll out our surveillance and monitoring over the 18 months following the implementation of the database.
No Introduction Needed: ACCME’s New Communications DirectorTamar Hosansky, who was serving as editor of this magazine when she got the call from the Accreditation Council for CME asking her to be its new communications director, says she was “surprised and thrilled. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to participate in something I am so passionate about, which is elevating CME’s visibility and credibility on a national level.”
Her 13 years with Medical Meetings left her well-versed in the issues and concerns surrounding CME and in the different perspectives of all the stakeholders involved. That experience will allow her “to bring together all specialized information about accreditation and CME that ACCME has and direct it outward properly,” says ACCME’s chief executive, Murray Kopelow, MD.
Adds Hosansky, “Having somebody dedicated just to communications will be helpful in terms of looking at the overall developments and seeing how they can be communicated in the most clear and understandable way, and also to clearly demonstrate ACCME’s trajectory of development, that everything it does is a series of steps in the process of moving accredited CME toward becoming a strategic asset in patient-care initiatives.”
Her new position entails developing strategies for communicating new developments, such as the release of a more detailed accredited-provider list. Since she began working with the ACCME in June, she has collaborated on developing a plan to reach out to the media, in collaboration with state medical societies, about the ACCME’s new regional forums; and she has fielded a number of calls from reporters wanting background information on the issues Kopelow discussed at a recent Senate Special Committee hearing this summer concerning conflicts of interest, commercial support, and CME.
The best part of the job so far, she says, is “working in such a collegial, collaborative environment and having the opportunity to participate in conversations about the direction the ACCME is taking. I’ve been very impressed with the level of thought that goes into everything.” She adds, “I’m finding it very rewarding to learn more about the breadth of the ACCME’s efforts in education and outreach, and to think about ways to communicate those out to a wider audience.”