CME providers are greeting the idea of standardized grant request budgets, post-activity reconciliation templates, and a data dictionary with open arms. As Paul Weber, executive director of the Alliance for CME says, “Everyone I’ve spoken with about it has cheered.”

Among those cheering is the Alliance, which Weber says, “supports the development of a uniform budget template, budget definitions, and budget reconciliation process that can used by all companies that provide grants for CME.”

Better Budgeting for All
While the idea for the initiative arose from the Alliance’s pharmaceutical member group, it’s something that people on both sides of the budget have wanted for a long time. “CME providers and those who work in the pharmaceutical organizations are all in alignment that it makes sense,”
says Weber.

“I know this has been discussed for a long time, and it’s great that it’s finally happening,” says Adrien Dickerson, MBA, director, operations, with the Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Her organization obtains commercial support for ASCO as well as its own programs. “When we get a budget template to complete, we have to translate our budget into their template. Then the next day we get another organization’s grant application and it’s a completely different template. So we have to go back to the drawing board.” And it’s not just her department that’s feeling the strain, she says. “We have to consult with our finance department to ensure exactly what fits into what code. If a committee cost fits into a company’s program development section but also could fit into its content development section, what do you do? Having standardized templates would significantly cut back on the staff time spent figuring it all out.”

It also would improve communications, she adds. “The last thing a provider seeking funds wants to do is be misleading—we want to tell you exactly what our costs are.” The problem, she says, is when you have to try to shoehorn 10 line items into a template that has just five categories, you’re going to lose specificity. Some companies don’t even have note fields, and if they do, they’re usually very character-limited, she says. So you have to abbreviate, but does “comm” mean committee or communications?

Weber says he foresees the templates being a timesaver for those who, like the Alliance, are trying to get multiple supporters for their CME activities—something the supporters are encouraging these days to diminish the potential for the appearance of bias. The Alliance’s Competency Assessment & Lifelong Learning Series, Leadership Institute, and virtual journal club all have multiple external supporters, so Weber knows what it’s like to have to submit grants to two, three, four, or more funding organizations, each of which has its own budget approach and line-item definitions. And it’s not over when that’s completed, because each firm uses its own template for the reconciliation process as well.

But Will It Fly?
Weber warns that, while it’s a great first step to have these templates available, “Keep in mind that not all companies have adopted them yet.”

Dickerson hopes they will be widely adopted, and thinks that they will be—eventually. “If some of the larger organizations sign on right away, that will help facilitate adoption,” she adds.“Kudos to everyone involved in trying to make this happen. I know this has been discussed for a long time, and it’s great that it’s finally happening.”

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