Saul Weiner, MD, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in conjunction with the Society for General Internal Medicine, measured what physicians learned from three accredited CME courses at the society's annual meeting. Course participants were asked to answer five questions designed to evaluate their knowledge of and confidence about the subject matter. The questionnaire was administered when physicians registered for the course, three months after completion of the course, and again nine months after completion.

The study identified a range of outcomes. “In some cases people learned a lot. In other cases they didn't learn much at all. In some cases they learned a lot and retained it,” said Weiner in a press release. “In one case they actually knew more six months later than they did right after the seminar, which suggests that perhaps they did more research to learn about the topic. In some cases there was marked decay and they were back to where they were before they took the course,” Weiner added.

The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education is requiring providers to phase in outcomes measurements, but there are no standards in place as yet. “The purpose of CME is to ensure that physicians are continually learning and applying what they've learned to their practice,” said Weiner. But he believes not enough is done to measure whether “all the effort, money, time, and resources we put into medical education works.”

The study was published in the May issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.