Wyeth’s merger with Pfizer Inc. last fall meant that the staff from two well-established continuing medical education departments had to find ways to bring all their operations under one roof. We recently caught up with Maureen Doyle-Scharff, MBA, FACME, the new senior director, team lead, for Pfizer’s Medical Education Group, External Medical Communications, to find out what the process was like, and what CME providers can expect from the group moving forward.

Medical Meetings: The post-merger transition time usually entails a lot of turmoil for employees on both sides as the two entities work on reconciling differences and streamlining operations. How has your team worked through it?

Maureen Doyle-Scharff: It has been a wild ride as we integrated two fairly disparate teams that worked in the space of medical education. But, believe it or not, I think it has made us a stronger team in the end.

As is the case with every merger-acquisition, the company’s leadership had to sort through what we could afford to keep—we couldn’t just double the size of the team working in medical education. As the two teams came together, a few individuals, notably [former Pfizer MEG team lead] Mike Saxton, as well as a couple of people on the Wyeth side, decided that it was time to move on to the next chapter in their careers. As of late November, Mike was transitioning out and I moved into the team leader role. My first job was to figure out how to bring these two teams together into a new, and hopefully improved, medical education group at Pfizer.

We were fortunate in that we ended up being able to add one person to our team’s head count. However, the company now has had to absorb and/or support clinical areas that Wyeth brought to the table that Pfizer wasn’t involved with before. So while it may look like the MEG held its own in terms of budget and resources—our budget has remained relatively flat over the past three years—the reality is that we lost the budget that the Wyeth group had to support all of these clinical areas. Now we’re supporting medical education and strategies for women’s health and a handful of other areas that were never ours before, as well as our traditional areas.

So we’ve spent the past five months processing, updating, and evaluating processes and policies, and trying to figure out what makes the most sense moving forward. What the external stakeholders will see coming out of the Pfizer MEG might look a little different than what they’ve seen in the past, but the end goal hasn’t changed. We take our leadership role very seriously and want to put it to good use, helping the provider community and investing in high-quality education that’s based on true needs and is really going to make a difference.

MM: What will look familiar to CME providers about the new Pfizer team?

Doyle-Scharff: Our registration process, review process and policies by and large haven’t changed. In fact, the Office of the Inspector General recognized the MEG group and its processes in our recent corporate integrity agreement for doing things right. We’re locked into our policies, and that’s not a bad thing.

MM: Will medical education companies continue to be excluded from your grants process?

Doyle-Scharff: Here’s my chance to set the record straight: [The policy of not providing grants directly to MECCs] is not “the MECCs policy,” as it’s known around the globe. What we call it internally is the “duty-of-care policy.” It is our belief that providers whose mission is patient care in some way—or organizations that represent healthcare professionals whose job is patient care—are in the best place to execute education that is going to truly impact care at the patient level.

This isn’t to say we wouldn’t support a national initiative if it were the right thing at the right time for all the right reasons, but we are trending away from the big national educational initiatives (and MECCs aren’t the only ones involved in those, by the way). We’re moving more toward local, state, or regional initiatives that target a unique, specific learner population because it’s easier to do true needs assessments and gap analysis, and it’s easier to ultimately measure the outcomes. It’s about duty of care, and it is our viewpoint, based on the mountains of data we sit on and the stories those data tell in terms of true positive change, that initiatives that meet a need or solve a clinical or systemic problem on a local level are the ones that are usually more successful at delivering outcomes at Moore’s 4-6 level. We have no intention of changing that because it aligns perfectly with our intent to support that very type of education.

People have said that we put the duty-of-care policy in place because we wanted only academic medical centers to show up on our transparency-in-grants initiative—that never even entered our consciousness. I also heard that [MECCs] were looking for a duty-of-care provider to submit a grant on their behalf, which kind of misses the point, because they still would not be engaged in a true collaborative effort that somehow loops actual patient care into the mix. It’s pretty easy to identify the grant requests where someone has done that: There’s no patient component to the mix.

I will also go on record saying I commend the medical education companies that have really embraced the notion of collaboration, those that recognize that, in order to have meaningful outcomes, someone has to have access to data at the patient level so that you can start to evaluate what is and is not working. I’m really impressed with organizations that are leveraging their expertise and competencies in combination with duty-of-care providers.

MM: What role are you planning for the new addition to your team?

Doyle-Scharff: We’ve dedicated our headcount addition, Betsy Woodall,

PharmD, to focus entirely on what we call outreach and analytics, or outcomes.

As important as outcomes are, we’ve never before had the luxury of having an individual whose day job is to focus in a broad sense on the needs assessments that are being conducted independently and referenced in the proposals we receive. Bottom line is that we’re sitting on a lot of data we’ve never had the opportunity to do much with. Betsy can now take the data from providers reporting back to us on their successes and start to tell the story of how our investment in grant dollars was able to support education that in fact improves performance and/or affects patient care in a positive way. Because the job is so new, we’re sorting through how we can implement that.

MM: What else is new about your team post-merger?

Doyle-Scharff: About the same time we implemented the quarterly grant review, we eliminated our call-for-grants application process because, for all intents and purposes, the quarterly review would take its place. We’ve recently decided to revisit that using the call-for-grants model as a complement to the quarterly competitive grant review. We think this will help the provider community understand that we’re very serious about supporting innovative initiatives and supporting a provider community that understands the value of leveraging medical education to improve performance and quality within their institutions.

We have some pretty lofty goals and some milestones we want to accomplish along the way—like a more robust outreach strategy to create dialogue with the provider community. We recently launched our First Friday webinar series for the provider community, and we’ve received a ton of good feedback on that. We’re trying to engage more with the provider community and to be as transparent as possible. We want to create awareness that we’re not interested in supporting just traditional CME anymore. It’s evolved to something much broader than that because, whether people want to admit it or not, CME itself has become something much broader than it was 10 years ago.

MM: So what types of calls for grants do you anticipate?

Doyle-Scharff: Some of the calls for grants you might see in coming months will target hospital CME departments that are working closely with their QI or QA departments, or those that need to supplement a QI project that leverages medical education within their own institutions. We were historically using the call for grants for needs assessments because CME providers would often tell us that they didn’t know we would support a needs assessment—they thought they had to do the research first, then request funding for the activity.

We want providers to understand that we will support components of an activity. We love to support pilot projects because sometimes you just have to test a theory or new methodology. These calls for grants will be tied to a variety of things, including quality improvement, interprofessional and team dynamics education, and research.

MM: Research? In what way?

Doyle-Scharff: We’re evaluating the idea of investing in scholarly research in the areas of CME and continuing professional development. We’ve been in conversations with other stakeholder groups to think through what a research platform might look like and how Pfizer could support something along those lines appropriately and compliantly.

MM: What are some of the more innovative initiatives you’re hearing about?

Doyle-Scharff: While point-of-care initiatives have been around for a while, they still can be difficult to implement—that falls under my umbrella of innovation. Also, we’ve had some conversations with providers who are trying to figure out how to leverage simulation centers in their own institutions for CME. Traditionally, sim center use has been more about undergraduate and, to some extent, graduate education, but the CME office has never tapped into that resource. We’ll support providers that want to try to figure it out.

MM: It’s been a tough few years, with heightened scrutiny and criticism of both pharma and CME splattered across the news. What does the CME community need to do to move forward?

Doyle-Scharff: We’ve been in this weird funk for the past several years. Providers are feeling beaten up, and industry dollars are decreasing. Not that any of that is going away, but there are many providers who have plowed through and are doing a great job at providing high-quality education that meets an identified need.

What we need is to find a way to showcase all these good outcomes data they are generating. If we can help facilitate the dissemination of that data in some way, then I think we’ll have done a good job as well. The CME community currently doesn’t have a good way to share that information. Hospitals don’t talk with other hospitals, and CME providers largely don’t talk with each other outside of the Alliance for CME conference once a year.

I’d love to see Pfizer host a forum that really just blows people away with best practices. Pfizer is known for stepping in to help support innovation in different areas, so it’s very much in line with our corporate philosophy of being a part of the solution.

It’s so cool to get outcomes reports that show improvement in patients’ lives. To know that we played some small part is why we’re all in this. We get beaten up time and again, but we stick with it because it isn’t about CME being a commodity, and it isn’t just about education. It’s about understanding CME’s role in the healthcare space and how, if you do it right, the education you develop can really make a difference.

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