Amid the scrutiny and investigations of the pharmaceutical industry's influence on CME, the positive effect that commercial support has on patient care often gets lost, says Jennifer Spear Smith, PhD, FACME, executive director, medical education at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Collegeville, Pa. “It does actually help to have data to demonstrate the value, internally and externally, of supporting CME,” says Smith. That's why Wyeth conducted an internal study in 2007, which demonstrated that at least 7 million patients received improved patient care as a result of CME activities the company funded.

Requiring Outcomes

The fact that Wyeth had so much data to draw upon is not an accident. For the past three years, Wyeth has allocated grants only to providers that are conducting Level 3 or higher outcomes measurements for their activities, with the exception of grants given to smaller providers that don't have the resources to collect that data. The result is that outcomes data has been collected from about 90 percent of the activities the company supports. Wyeth has also required that providers report the results. (In the Moore model, Level 3 measures changes in knowledge or skills; Level 4 looks for practice improvement; Level 5 assesses changes in patient health; and Level 6 records changes in population health.)

For the purposes of this study, Wyeth researchers only utilized data from Levels 4, 5, or 6 on the Moore scale. That represents a third of the activities that Wyeth supported in 2007, explains Kristin Rand, director of education strategy, professional education support department at Wyeth, who compiled the data. (The company did not provide the total number of activities they supported or the total value of grants it gave out last year.)

Physicians by the Numbers

Crunching the numbers, Rand found that Wyeth supported the education of about 153,000 physicians and other healthcare professionals in 2007. The outcomes reports indicated how many patients each of the 153,000 doctors or healthcare professionals would be treating for issues related to the education. “Based on the numbers that the physicians provided, we could estimate how many patients would potentially be receiving better care based on the evidence that they improved their competency as a healthcare professional,” says Rand.

For the most part, the outcomes data showed positive changes in physician practice, but some results showed no change. Good or bad, the feedback is helpful in informing Wyeth's future funding decisions. “The reason that we support this type of CME is to improve patient care. We are very interested to find out if our funding is actually doing that,” Smith says. For CME professionals like Rand and Smith, it's fulfilling to see the outcomes and know that they are making a difference. “That's why we do it,” says Smith. “It's very motivating.”

The study results are also useful in demonstrating the value of CME to internal Wyeth stakeholders and to the public. “We still see many articles [in the press] confusing independent education with promotion and assuming that independent education really isn't independent,” says Smith. “It gets very frustrating for us as CME professionals.” She hopes that this sort of data — whether it's from Wyeth or some other company — will help shift the negative external perceptions of industry.

Related article: CME Leaders Fight Back against Attacks