When all goes well, the planning is seamless, the faculty members are responsive, engaging, and effective, and the participants make significant practice improvements.

Then there are the other times, when a faculty leader accepts your invitation to help develop and implement an activity but then does not respond by phone or e-mail. You continue reaching out but receive no response, even after the deadline for content submission and review. Then the content he finally submits looks eerily similar to a promotional speaker’s bureau presentation, and the faculty member doesn’t understand why you require so many changes. After all, he says, “I have presented this same material at many other CME activities without any problems.”

Sound familiar? If not, consider yourself lucky. In a survey that our organization conducted of more than 20 other accredited providers representing academia, medical education companies, societies, and hospitals, 78 percent indicated they had run into faculty problems.

Fortunately, there are techniques that can help tame the hard-to-handle faculty member, from the planning process to activity launch.

Planning for Problems

You can set the foundation for the activity with your faculty as soon as they have been confirmed to participate. If the faculty were not involved with the needs assessment or grant proposal development process, you can discuss planning details during a faculty project kick-off call or meeting. You can explain who the target audience is, and what the learning objectives and learning needs are, as well as any edits that will have to be made. You also can use these calls to get the faculty excited about their role in developing and delivering the education. Once you get their buy-in, faculty tend to be more cooperative, timely, and unbiased.

The planning process is also the most crucial time to establish timelines and identify what information needs to be collected. You can use the planning call to identify potential conflicts with disclosures and issues regarding clinical content. The faculty also can be a resource for planning future educational initiatives, including providing additional faculty recommendations, identifying remaining practice gaps, and suggesting ideas for future program formats.

This is also the prime moment to train faculty on the differences between a promotional talk and a CME program. Among the many resources available is the National Faculty Education Initiative, a program developed by the Alliance for CME in collaboration with the Society for Academic Continuing Medical Education and the Association of American Medical Colleges to teach faculty involved with CME the differences between certified CME and promotional activities. Additionally, the Accreditation Council for CME provides an extensive education and training section on its Web site, consisting of webcasts and articles pertaining to ACCME guidelines and the Standards for Commercial Support. Your course director can also be a great teaching resource for the other faculty involved with your activity—peer-to-peer education can be very effective.

Pre-Launch Preparation

One of the most effective ways to ensure your faculty is on time, on target, and compliant is to establish boundaries and set clear expectations early in the planning process. Detailed faculty planning calls can help to set reasonable roles and expectations and streamline follow-up communications.

Ask your faculty how they prefer to communicate. A tech-savvy physician may balk at the thought of receiving faxes but be willing to respond instantaneously to text messages. Consider using e-mails, letters, faxes, calling campaigns, and texts. You may get the best result using a combination of methods—shoot off an e-mail right after the call saying you will follow up more formally when you send the disclosure form the following week. Thank them in advance for their cooperation, include your most important needs, and let them know they can call you if they have any questions. You can also reinforce your message by following up e-mails with a phone message. Effective communications
can help you turn around an absent-minded physician before it’s too late.

It’s also important to be concise and direct. Nobody is going to make sense of a rambling 10-paragraph e-mail, with the true agenda hidden on line 137—especially not an "Eight Days A Week" faculty member (click here for our categorization of problem faculty types by their Beatles song titles). Call out tasks in a bulleted format, and use highlighting or bold type to quickly identify your request. One accredited provider uses a memo format that starts off with a bold line, stating “ACTION REQUESTED” right up front.

Absentee faculty members can remain elusive. After the faculty planning call, document their agreement to all critical deadlines, responsibilities, and deliverables. When a faculty member has agreed to these roles and responsibilities early on, you can remind him or her of this when reaching out to collect appropriate materials.

Deadlines should be set with as much flexibility as you can
afford. However, you can keep the true “drop-dead” date secret—due dates for external players, such as faculty, can always be padded for your own peace of mind.

There are multiple tools and methods for collecting faculty materials. You can use electronic methods to send automatic disclosure-submission reminders, and to be notified when the tasks have been completed—and you don’t have to worry about having to make assumptions when deciphering prescription-style handwriting.

Educational content can get stuck in cyberspace when large, file-sized slide decks cause e-mail failures. You can use Web links, and free Internet file-sharing services to take the guesswork out of sending and receiving large files. You can ensure you will receive the materials you need, when you need them, by using a secure FTP site that is checked daily and shared with the faculty, along with submission-deadline e-mail reminders.

All these steps take extra work and time that surely none of us can afford—why not lean on your resources to help? Your administrative staff are adept at following up with e-mail and call reminders; and your project coordinators can help to manage the timeline of content submission and retrieval of materials. When all else fails, a problem faculty member will often respond to a personal e-mail or call from the “big guns”: your company president, university dean, society committee chairperson, or CME committee leader.

It can also be very useful to ingratiate yourself with your faculty member’s direct assistant. We have had great success reaching faculty immediately following a quick “happy holidays” or “happy birthday” call to a course director’s executive assistant. These critical support staff can perform miracles in short order.

The Last Resorts

If all communications have failed and you have nearly lost hope, don’t hesitate to remind your faculty that all actions (or lack thereof) have consequences. You laid out your expectations during the planning phases that all faculty honoraria, travel expenses, and participation were contingent on their agreement to fulfill their responsibilities. There may be a time when you have to remind Dr. Eight Days a Week that a lack of a disclosure form means he can’t participate in the activity. These measures are a last resort, but can be effective when no other options remain.

You may need to remind a faculty member of the scrutiny that the CME enterprise has received in recent years. Nobody wants a negative headline about his institution or actions in The New York Times. You can remind a problem faculty member that part of your job is to mitigate all possible risks. Reiterate the possible effects of lack of compliance and don’t
mince words. After all, the news media won’t.

With each CME project, a pre-activity meeting or conference call can help communicate any last-minute needs to the faculty. Remind faculty that the ACCME requires accredited providers to monitor for bias in certified activities. Inform faculty members that you are on site to assist, ensure compliance, and collect evaluation information from participants who rate the program for bias, fair balance, and scientific objectivity.

For live meetings, we recommend asking a small number of anonymous attendees to serve as “CME proctors.” These proctors fill out a more detailed evaluation form addressing bias, evidence, and other external audit criteria. When faculty members are reminded that “your peers’ eyes are on you,” it can do wonders for their focus on compliance.

If, despite all your efforts, things go awry, take charge. You are the CME expert. We learned of one CME coordinator who brilliantly dealt with a CME activity in which the faculty member began delivering a promotional discussion. Taking the appropriate role of an on-site monitor, she respectfully interrupted the lecture, noted that she was from the accredited provider, and reminded all learners that the certified CME activity they were attending was developed to ensure that all discussion remained fair, balanced, scientifically objective, and free from bias. She thanked the faculty and audience for keeping this in mind as the session progressed. The faculty member agreed and moved forward in a more compliant manner.

While you will rarely have to employ all the techniques we noted for any one faculty member, the combination of different methods enhances faculty management. Through advance planning, clear and effective communication, and reliance on all available resources perhaps we can turn a Nowhere Man, a Dr. Eight Days a Week, or Sergeant Pepper into a successful faculty member who is “Here, There, and Everywhere” in all the right ways.

Amanda Glazar, PhD, CCMEP is director of adult learning and outcomes at Global Education Group. Reach her at aglazar@globaleducationgroup.com. Allison Kickel, CCMEP is director of program management at Global Education Group. Reach her at akickel@globaleducationgroup.com.

Visit the Medical Meetings special Tips and Trends section for more ways to improve your CME program.