You asked for it — now you got it. The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education () has drafted a policy statement on Internet-based CME, addressing issues that have sparked much debate at CME provider conferences over the past few years — how to protect online education's integrity and credibility, learner privacy, and usability.
After gathering public comment, the ACCME's Task Force on Adapting ACCME to the World Wide Web hopes to present a final policy statement to the Council for a vote at its November meeting.
The task force expects many comments will be forthcoming about the following prohibitions:
CME activities of accredited providers cannot be hosted on a pharmaceutical or device manufacturer's Web site.
No advertising can appear within the educational materials presented.
Accredited providers must not create or allow to be created “hidden technical mechanisms for transferring learner data” (i.e., “cookies”).
Providers cannot embed links to pharmaceutical or device manufacturers' Web sites within educational materials.
Linda Casebeer, PhD, associate professor and associate director of CME, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, and chair of the ACCME's Internet task force, is quick to point out that their goal is to separate education from promotion — not try to put commercial sites out of business.
“The data tell us [the Internet] is a very active and appropriate medium for physicians to receive CME; there is convenience, and a lot of potential yet to be realized. We don't want to put regulations in place that so economically restrict online providers that they can't stay in business and provide CME.” Internet CME provider companies have been defined as nonaccredited firms,such as Medscape, that may provide access to CME among other sevices to physicians.
In fact, the policy has been two years in coming, in part because the group — unlike other task forces — committed itself to actively seeking comment, especially from Internet CME providers, explains Casebeer. Members attempted to reach all the 200-plus Internet CME providers listed at www.netcantina.com/bernardsklar/cmelist.html, a Web site maintained by Bernard Sklar, MD, who did his Master's thesis on online CME.
The guidelines are similar to the ACCME rules for other formats, she says. “We looked at many sites to see which ones already meet these guidelines and what, if anything, would be different. The policy doesn't say you can't advertise ever on your site; it just says you can't do it in the middle of CME content. It's very consistent with what we've said in the past about videotapes, audiotapes, and monographs. A lot of this is not new; it's just a little more closely described in terms of the technical capabilities of the Internet.”