The Government has widened its probe into CME. Two months after the United States Senate Finance Committee issued its CME report, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing about conflict of interest created by industry's educational grants and relationships with physicians. Here's the opening line of the June 27 Washington Post story covering the hearing: “Drug companies have become the biggest sponsors of continuing medical education courses in recent years, even at the nation's top medical schools, a development that critics say raises healthcare costs, skews doctors' treatment decisions, and allows the industry to skirt laws against advertising ‘off label’ uses for its products.”

It doesn't get much more damning than that.

The challenge facing the CME community is to create a campaign that can make a difference in the national debate on healthcare; and begin to correct the public's, media's, and government's skewed perceptions of CME. The Alliance for CME is sending a contingent to meet with Senate Finance Committee staff in October. (See cover story, page 28.) In addition, providers can generate a grass-roots education effort on a local, as well as national, level.

One tactic is to create a CME information packet. Use your press kit to make contact with your state legislators and local media. Find out your local politicians' stance on healthcare; some are using the issue of industry influence on physician education in their campaigns. Be proactive and position CME as a leader in healthcare improvement. Establish relationships with small press outlets; they often need material, and their focus is on community stories.

In “The PI Challenge” (June 2007), we reported on how the Seton Family of Hospitals, Austin, Texas, reduced mortality in sepsis patients by 16 percent through a performance-improvement activity. That's the kind of success story the public needs to hear about. Look at your data: Have your educational activities cut down on unnecessary tests, boosted accurate diagnosis rates, improved physician adherence to guidelines, reduced medical errors, or increased care for underserved populations?

You need to tell those stories, not in academic or medical language, but in layperson's terms. That means combining statistics and hard facts with personal stories and emotion. Get testimonials from physicians and patients affected by CME. Providers need to give CME a human face. If your activity resulted in easing the pain or bettering the life of even one patient, that is an important story to tell.

And, don't evade the commercial support controversy. The Washington Post story highlighted the fact that drug companies shell out $1 billion annually in CME grants. Turn around the suspicion of influence-peddling. Yes, your office receives industry grants. Here are examples of how that money has been used to help patients. (If you don't accept commercial support, highlight that information.)

Every day, the public hears stories about pharmaceutical companies covering up drug safety problems, conducting illegal marketing campaigns, buying politicians. The CME community needs to counter with headlines of its own. One CME professional created a button that says: “CME Saves Lives.” That's the message you need to deliver. Don't only refute the negative accusations; assert the positive CME agenda. CME saves lives — here's how.