Nine months after the Alliance for CME announced at its annual meeting some big changes it was undertaking—including expanding its focus beyond certified continuing medical education—the organization is still busy setting the groundwork to make the new vision a reality. (For background, here’s a detailed exploration of the proposed changes, including the new mission, vision, and eight strategic commitments.) Medical Meetings recently caught up with Alliance President George Mejicano, MD, to get an overview of the Alliance’s progress to date.

MM: Let’s start with where you are now with changing the name of the organization to reflect your new strategic initiatives.
Mejicano: We received many ideas for the new name, which the board considered before making a decision in June. We wanted to be true to our new mission and vision without straying too far from our origins, so we settled on The Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions. This aligns with the name of our journal, The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions. It also allows us to continue to be known as The Alliance, which is how many of our members refer to us. A hidden benefit is that it also should cut the confusion that arises when some refer to The Alliance as ACME, which some may think is the same as the ACCME [Accreditation Council for CME].

The membership will be able to vote on the name in October. They also will be able to vote on a change to a bylaw that would allow two public members to be appointed directly to the board rather than elected through a general election. This new alternative would give us a mechanism to get different perspectives than those usually held by our members onto the board, perhaps even from people who aren’t currently Alliance members.

This year has been about laying the foundation. The superstructure, what people will see, has yet to be built. So 2011 is all about bylaw and process changes, positioning the organization, and getting the right people in place.

MM: Are there other structural issues under consideration right now?
Mejicano: We have a task force that’s looking at the possibility of moving the office from Birmingham, Ala. If we’re going to be really serious about advocacy, then we probably need to create a 501c6, and we probably need to be in Washington, D.C. On the other hand, if we want to be better collaborators with the “house of medicine,” then maybe Chicago’s the place to be, because that’s where many of the major healthcare organizations are. There are pros and cons to both of these, and to moving at all. Our mission is to be a “community of professionals dedicated to accelerating excellence in healthcare performance through education, advocacy, and collaboration”—we need to lay the groundwork for how that is going to play out.

We’re also thinking about how to involve those who may never be able to afford to be full members or come to our conferences. What about creating a digital membership so they could receive JCEHP, and The Almanac, and Medical Meetings, and participate in the online communities and webinars? That sort of tiered membership is also an idea that sprang from our strategic plan that the membership committee is considering.

And we’re thinking about creating chapters. Not necessarily by geography or how we traditionally have sectioned our membership, which is by employer type (pharmaceutical, hospitals, healthcare systems, medical education companies, etc.). Now we’re thinking about functional sectors—people who are interested in writing grants, or in enduring activities, or people who are interested in global education.

MM: How else have you begun to expand the focus beyond certified CME?
Mejicano: We had to look at how to stock the pond with people who know about the needs of nonphysicians who may not even be members yet, so we can know how to bring them into the Alliance. We’ve been actively trying to involve people outside of our usual prospects on the committees and task forces and, ultimately, on the board, as I mentioned. We have someone from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education on our professional development committee, for example. We’re working with them to update the competencies to include those needed for pharmacists.

We’re also reaching out to the American Nursing Credentialing Center. We also are talking with the American Pharmacists Association, the American Academy of Physician Assistants, and other organizations to learn more about their learners’ needs.

MM:What about expanding the scope to include promotional and other noncertified CME?
Mejicano: There is a role for promotional education, just as there is a role for nonphysician education, and just as there is a role for certified CME. For example, we are engaged with the Industry Working Group that will be responding to the [Food and Drug Administration] regarding the REMS [Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies] initiatives related to long-acting opioid analgesics. Think of it as a vaccine that decreases mortality from a specific disease. I don’t care who gets the message out; what I care about is saving lives by have more vaccines given.

There also are Part 4 and Part 2 products for maintenance of certification that are not created or approved for AMA [American Medical Association Physician Recognition Award] PRA Category 1 credit. Likewise, we know there are self-assessments, lifelong learning pieces certified for CME, and performance-improvement CME that are not approved for MOC. If we stuck with only certified CME, we’d essentially be turning our backs on most of the MOC opportunities for physicians. Certified CME is only one piece of a very large puzzle.

MM: How will these changes manifest at the annual conference?
Mejicano: We’ll be doing sessions on social media in health professions education, quality science 101, and global CE at the upcoming annual conference in January 2012. Carolyn Clancy, MD, director of AHRQ [the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality], is going to be one of the speakers at the 2012 conference. There will be a plenary session on interprofessional learning as well.

So we’ve made some inroads in speakers and topics, but the big changes will be coming later. Remember that this is a five-year strategic plan. It’ll be in 2013 where you’ll see substantial differences in content, format, and who’s coming to the meeting.

MM: How about the launch of the new Web site?
Mejicano: While it’s nice that the face of the organization now functions much more effectively, the real benefits have been in the background workings of the site. It’s tied to an association management system now, which means all the pieces are tied together—membership, marketing, registration, member services, etc. The Web site is the portal to all those pieces.

It looks nicer, it has far more power than the previous site, but there has been a relatively slow uptake in the communities—it’s like having a Porsche that’s still sitting in the garage. We hope eventually people will gather around the social media networking aspects, where they can support each other and share, where spontaneous groups and clusters arise around various topics. These features are being used, but not to the capacity we’re hoping for. In my fantasy world, I’d love for it to be where everyone goes first thing in the morning to check in to see what’s going on. We have a long way to go before we get there, though.

MM: One point of your strategic plan is to advance the field of continuing professional development through research and other scholarly activities. Any progress on that front yet?
Mejicano: We have a task force looking at the creation of an Alliance research institute; we expect a report at the end of September on what shape that will take and the strategic connections we’ll need to put in place. Once we know what exactly the institute will be, we can start collaborating with other organizations.

MM: What other projects do you have in the works?
Mejicano: One thing is a disclosures template and database, which we hope to roll out in 2012. We are working with the Institute of Medicine, and other professional nursing and other professional groups, to develop a standardized disclosure form and a national database of disclosures providers can use.

Another area of interest is fundraising. A big issue has always been the coupling of the annual conference and the membership dues—if the conference does well, the membership goes up, and vice versa. We need to uncouple membership from the conference, and we need to create more nondues revenues, because there’s a lot we want to do.

We have to not be afraid to fail, and I believe we no longer are. We have made decisions this year that could be highly unpalatable—we’re going to move away from just certified CME, we’re going to potentially move the office, we’re thinking about electronic membership, and we’re thinking promotional CME has a place at the table.

This doesn’t mean we don’t have our critics, who generally fall into three groups. One says that we’re forgetting about the docs. We’re not; we’re just including the whole team now. Another is that we’re just doing this to make more money. That’s a benefit that came later, not part of our initial thinking. If we’re really about quality, we must improve interprofessional learning; that means expanding our membership base to other healthcare professions. The third group says that we’re encroaching on other organizations’ turf. One example of this last is the research institute, which is something the Society of Academic CME does. We’ve talked with [SACME president] Gabrielle Kane about how our interests in this area could intersect, and I believe this will become less of an issue as the Alliance research institute develops.

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