If the recent 2010 data released by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education show one thing, it’s that the state of the CME field parallels the current state of U.S. healthcare. For example:

  • Pay for performance—The CME field is struggling to do more with less. With roughly the same total expenses and flat industry CME grant funding, CME activities still attracted 600,000 more physicians in 2010 than in 2009.
  • Too many patients and not enough time—Between 2006 and 2010, the number of physician CME participants increased by 39 percent while average per-physician CME costs decreased 30 percent. While physicians continue to report a high interest in attending live activities, the number of typically shorter Web-based activities has skyrocketed.
  • Team-based healthcare system—The number of nonphysicians participating in CME activities is growing at a rate nearly twice as high as the rate of growth for physician participants. This shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, we all are in the business of opening minds through healthcare continuing education.

Here’s Where It Gets Scary
There’s another parallel between CME and patient care sitting on the horizon: It’s all about shortages. Scarcity. Bottlenecks. A recent Wall Street Journal headline summed it up: “Medical Schools Can’t Keep Up: As Ranks of Insured Expand, Nation Faces Shortage of 150,000 Doctors in 15 Years.”

Fewer budding doctors are choosing primary care. An estimated 30 million more patients are expected to be covered by health insurance. If you think waiting-room times are long now, imagine the triple whammy of more patients, fewer physicians, and continued efforts to squeeze expense budgets.

Caution: Bumps Ahead
As is the case in patient care, we have stressed the CME system over the past decade and wrung out some efficiencies. But without a serious commitment to CME’s future, expect a negative impact on continuing education, physician profi-
ciency, and patient health.

The ACCME’s new Program Activity and Reporting System is providing all stakeholders with a more detailed look at CME trends. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it appears that CME grant funding may have declined even more from 2009 to 2010 than the numbers show.

The new PARS reports now require accredited providers to report “commercial support” for each CME activity. In the past, some providers simply reported the net industry grant funding they received—after subtracting pass-through costs. Since some accredited providers under-reported commercial support in the past, the decline in industry grant funding may actually be higher than we think.

Now that the stakes for patient health are high, we’d be wise to redouble our commitment to CME.

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

More of Stephen's Columns:

Welcome to the CME Business
Ringing In a New Era for CME
REMS: A New Trajectory for CME?