Over the past few years, naysayers quoted in The New York Times and published reports from both the Macy Foundation and the Macy-funded Institute of Medicine (IOM) have placed the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education in their cross hairs.

While there’s always room for improvement, ask yourself one important question: Is the CME arena better off now than it was four years ago? In terms of educational quality, outcomes, and regulatory leadership, the answer is an unequivocal yes.

Through some tough times, the ACCME has grown from an organization that questioned CME quality and the value of industry grants into a CME regulator that serves as a leading voice for the enterprise.

In addition to condemning the 2007 Macy conference findings for not being evidence-based and not responding to often destructive criticism in 2008, the ACCME made a bold statement last year: “The ACCME believes that the CME system’s internal controls provided by the ACCME Standards for Commercial Support and associated ACCME policies support the development of independent continuing medical education that a) is free of commercial bias and b) does not result in an inclination by professionals to direct care that is unwarranted or unnecessary.”

And this year, the ACCME followed up with several important calls for comment that sought input on its processes and accreditation criteria. The first call for comment set forth a process for the ACCME to demonstrate that it responds swiftly to provider noncompliance issues (an inherent request in the 2007 U.S. Senate Finance Committee staff report). After receiving a complaint about an accredited provider and making a noncompliance finding, the ACCME suggested that it would move forward with an improvement plan but keep the accredited organization’s identity confidential. If the provider’s accreditation status changed, however, the ACCME would make the information public but keep the reasons for the status change confidential. The ACCME also stated that it would aggregate and report on complaints data regarding accredited providers.

The ACCME engaged in a transparent call-for-comment process. The organization followed it up with a timeline for consideration, discussion of the comments, and a decision during its 2010 summer board meeting to approve this new process.

The result? We now have a tool, based on internal dialogue and an open regulatory process, for respectfully reporting on compliance issues while helping struggling providers improve. Thoughtful? Considerate? Useful? Yes. And it demonstrates credibility and professionalism to outsiders who often don’t take time to understand our guidelines and standards. This demonstrates ACCME’s effectiveness as a regulator.

Maybe you’re not ready to openly thank the CME field’s regulatory agency. But when it thoughtfully approaches new ideas to improve both CME perception and reality while welcoming our input, the ACCME deserves at least a tip of the hat.

Stephen M. Lewis, MA, CCMEP, is president of Littleton, Colo.–based Global Education Group. He can be reached at slewis@globaleducationgroup.com.

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