One of the changes in continuing medical education this year has been a decrease in the number of accredited providers. Some in our industry may applaud this “thinning of the herd.” However, we might do well to consider some possible unintended consequences.

While some noncompliant providers will go the way of the wind, many others who produce excellent CME will also disappear simply because they can't compete with the bigger companies. The consolidation of other industries (e.g., banking, telecommunications, and energy) has resulted in higher prices, decreased customer service, and a decline in product quality. What has held true for investing for years — yes, even in this economy — should also hold true for CME: We need a diversified portfolio to ensure success long-term.

Collaborations on the Rise

Some grantors have restricted funding to specific provider types. The positive result has been increased emphasis on collaboration between multiple CME providers (medical education and communication companies and academic institutions).

These relationships, however, must be more than just using one provider to help secure funding. Collaborations must be true working partnerships where both organizations focus on what they do well. Profits should also be shared equitably based on the division of labor.

Consider turning staff reductions into opportunities for partnering. Seek out other CME providers for a range of services, including graphic design/production, logistics, and educational outcomes measurement. If we use the it-takes-a-village approach in this economy, together, we can help stave off the exodus of CME providers.

CME Social Networking

Kudos to our industry for jumping on the technology bandwagon. There are many CME companies with links to Facebook and Twitter. Soon we may even see commercials that say “CME: There's an app for that.”

To maximize the reach of our CME activities, let's consider establishing a clinician social networking site dedicated exclusively to CME/CE. To maintain independence, accreditation agencies (ACCME, Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, American Nurses Credentialing Center, etc.) could share the responsibility of providing oversight. This would encourage multidisciplinary and multiagency collaboration. The site could track clinical practice trends according to evidence-based medicine and clinical guidelines, and also identify common barriers to optimal performance and patient health outcomes. The goal would be to house validated CME/CE activities in one central location, track participation rates, and report the outcomes.

Participants could rate the activities and share feedback on multiple indicators, including learning style preferences, topics, and faculty. Providers could see how participants rated activities they certified by obtaining aggregate educational outcomes measurement data. Accreditation agencies could use these data to evaluate which accredited providers were best meeting the needs of their target audiences and maintaining independence in their activities. The data could readily be shared with the government and the public alike, providing the transparency many are calling for.

Ann C. Lichti, CCMEP, is the vice president of Health Care Education Strategy for Veritas Institute for Medical Education Inc. Reach her at ann.lichti@veritasime.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not constitute the views of Veritas Institute for Medical Education Inc.