Lighthouse Learning may have scored a first for a continuing medical education–related for-profit company: a front-page story in The Boston Globe on the company’s launch earlier this week. The source of its newsworthiness? The new company plans to develop its curricula without any commercial support from the pharmaceutical or medical device industry.
The company’s business plan is to develop curricula, which will be packaged withchosen as most appropriate to teach them, in 12 major specialties—cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology, infectious disease, nephrology, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, oncology, psychiatry, pulmonary medicine, and rheumatology. The pre-determined curricula, which will target both specialists and generalists, then will be offered for sale to healthcare and related organizations for use in their own live or enduring materials activities anywhere in the U.S. Lighthouse will not actually produce any of the activities that are based on its curricula, says Lighthouse’s director of medical education, Martin Samuels, MD, chairman, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston and professor of neurology, Harvard Medical School.
Samuels says the reasoning behind the decision not to seek commercial support was to “make the curricula as credible as possible.” He adds, “It has to not only be unconflicted, but it also has to appear to be unconflicted. The appearance of a conflict of interest is as bad as the reality for a lot of doctors,” he says. He went further in the Globe article, saying that both docs and the public have lost confidence in CME, and that “The feeling is that everything is tainted.” However, Samuels also says the company does not intend to sell the curricula only to CME providers that will produce it sans commercial support. “All we can do is develop as pristine a curriculum as possible,” he says. “We don’t have any control over what happens once it’s bought.”
The target client base for the curricula, says Samuels, is not necessarily the large medical schools and societies that have their own well-developed CME departments, nor is it likely to be third-party, for-profit medical education companies that want to develop their own curricula and choose faculty for their own activities and those they produce for their clients. Instead, at least initially, Samuels envisions a customer base of smaller organizations that don’t have the means to develop CME on their own. Other potential clients could be large hospital systems such as the one he works in, Partners Healthcare Systems, which he says does not have its own educational arm. Insurance companies that want to produce CME for the healthcare workers in their systems are other possible clients, he says.
Developing Quality Curricula
Although he believes the fact that the curricula are developed without commercial support is “a selling point,” Samuels says a bigger draw will be the participation of “world-class educators who are also chairmen of their departments” as curriculum directors. The curriculum directors do not have to be entirely free of ties to industry, but they must be in full compliance with their own institutions’ conflict of interest rules, says Samuels. Those rules generally allow a certain level of financial ties between faculty and industry, he says. “At Harvard Medical School, for example, we don’t take the position that industry is evil and you can’t have any ties to industry.”
It is up to the curriculum directors to choose faculty as part of the curriculum development process, Samuels says, but it can be just as difficult for the curriculum developers to find faculty with no financial ties to industry as it is to find completely unaffiliated curriculum developers. As Steven Nissin, MD, chairman of the cardiology department at the Cleveland Clinic and development director for Lighthouse’s cardiology curriculum told the Globe, “The biggest-name people, the people who have the most expertise and are going to draw an audience—they are people who work with industry.” Nissen did tell the Globe that he would draw the line at faculty who were on pharma speakers bureaus. The curriculum directors also perform all the work required for Accreditation Council for CME accreditation, including gap analyses for needs assessment and incorporating outcomes-measurement strategies into the design of the modules. The company plans to apply for provisionalaccreditation in 2011.
While the company’s financial model rests on selling its products, it has yet to firm up what the prices will be for its curricula. Lighthouse was established with seed money from its founders, who in addition to Samuels are Jon Leibowitz, president and CEO, and Susan Pioli, vice president for program recruitment and development. Leibowitz previously was executive vice president with business-to-business media firm Questex Media. He also served as general manager and managing director at M|C Communications, where he helped develop the firm’s Pri-Med medical education company. Pioli’s background includes a 28-year career in medical publishing, acquiring medical textbooks for Little, Brown & Co. as executive editor and for Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann as publishing director.
Update: Since this article was originally posted, Lighthouse landed its first client: the CollaborativeCARE Conference, or C3, a new venture set to launch in November 2011 in Long Beach, Calif. Organized by the Weston, Mass.—based medical education solution provider Medical Exchange, C3 will be a six-day conference and marketplace designed to educate specialists, primary care physicians, and patients. According to founder John Mooney, who previously founded and ran M/C Communications, Lighthouse Learning will handle all aspects of the education, from faculty selection to content and outcomes measures. Medical Exchange will handle the promotional aspects, including the marketplace, which offers turnkey exhibit and sponsorship packages at varying levels instead of having exhibitors bring in their own booths.
For more on the new conference, here's a Q&A with C3's Mooney.
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