With commercial support continuing to shrink, intense scrutiny of everything to do with continuing medical education, and threats of further regulation looming, this next decade looks like one big continuation of some of the most challenging aspects of the first 10 years of the new millennium. While it’s easy to gripe about dwindling dollars and scathing critiques from those who don’t really understand what it is they are criticizing, I propose we kick off this new decade by adopting an attitude of gratitude for the very things that make us crazy.

Why on earth should we do that? Because every one of those pressures has made the CME community strive to find ways to become stronger, more relevant, and more effective at improving clinician behavior and patient health outcomes.

This became screamingly obvious as I read the white paper, “CME Crossroads,” a peer-reviewed survey of CME-related literature of the past five years conducted by the Global Education Group. (Disclosure: our “CME Monitor” columnist, Stephen Lewis, co-authored the study.) It was a combination of scrutiny and policy proposals that spurred the CME community to put adult-learning principles at the core of educational activity design. Criticism that CME doesn’t work has prodded this community to find ways to prove that CME actually does change behavior and patient outcomes. One example: the Accreditation Council for CME’s 2006 update to its accreditation criteria, one requirement of which is that accredited providers include outcomes in their mission statements, and measure the results.

In fact, the more scrutiny and criticism CME has gotten from legislative bodies, the more the CME enterprise has reacted by tightening up all aspects of its self-regulatory systems. The most notable example is ACCME’s issuing of a blizzard of updates, definitions, proposals, calls for comment, FAQs, guidances, and standards over the past several years. The Alliance for CME has also kicked into gear to help prepare providers to succeed in their revamped roles. It has developed its Competencies for CME Professionals, and most recently, provided an online learning center, the Competency Assessment and Lifelong Learning Series, that providers can use to hone their skills. The National Commission for Certification of CME Professionals has responded by launching the Certified CME Professional designation. All of this leads to an increasingly professional profession.

I know it’s hard to be grateful for the decreases in funding which, along with tougher standards, has pushed some providers out of accredited CME altogether. Still, I’d posit that it also has been good for the enterprise. Those left standing are those most likely to be able to provide the quality of education today’s regulatory environment—and today’s clinicians—require.

So far, the CME enterprise has made great strides reacting to pressure from outside sources. My wish for 2011: Stop reacting and start taking charge.

More of Sue's editorials:
From Incomes to Outcomes
Let's Get Small
GAME Meeting Gets Global Learning Right
The CME Provider/Parent Parallel