This is the first in a three-part series on the ACCME accreditation process for CME providers. The second provides tips on achieving Accreditation with Commendation; and the third details how to bounce back after being placed on probation or receiving a progress report requirement.

Getting Started
The accreditation process for first-time or initial applicants takes 12 to 18 months, so it pays to plan early and stay on top of the steps as they come. First, though, you need to determine if your organization is eligible for ACCME accreditation. Among the eligibility criteria the ACCME lists on its Web site are that you provide activities that have valid content, meaning that they address knowledge and skills the medical profession recognizes and accepts, as opposed to treatments that aren’t based on evidence that is accepted within the profession of medicine. Oh, and you can’t be an ACCME-defined commercial interest; state medical societies, Liaison Committee for Medical Education-accredited schools of medicine, physician membership organizations and medical specialty societies, and other organizations that provide CME for physician learners are welcome to apply.

To initiate the process, you need to request and then file a pre-application form that shows you are eligible and able to fulfill the ACCME’s accreditation requirements. If the ACCME agrees that you’re eligible for accreditation and approves the pre-application, then you can move on to the next step. You complete an initial self-study report that includes descriptions of how your CME program complies with the ACCME’s accreditation requirements, documents that back your claims, and examples that show how you carried out the practices you describe and document. You also will be asked to provide documentation from at least two activities that were completed within approximately two years prior to your submission as part of the performance-in-practice review. This data must be uploaded into the ACCME’s Program and Activity Reporting System, known as PARS. You also get another opportunity to clarify, amplify, and further explain your program during an interview with a team of ACCME-trained volunteer surveyors.

Providers can prepare for their interview by learning to think like a surveyor, says ACCME’s chief executive Murray Kopelow, MD. “The surveyors want to know that you understand the requirements, they want to get a description of how you comply with the requirements, and [they want] you to provide verification.” Those three elements are also key to the self-study and documentation review, he adds. “Accreditation isn’t about documentation, it’s about doing it right,” says Kopelow. “Do it right, describe what you’re doing, and find ways to verify it.”

Then the ACCME’s Accreditation Review Committee reviews and analyzes all the information gleaned from your self-study, performance-in-practice, and interviews and forwards its compliance findings and accreditation decision recommendations to the ACCME’s Decision Committee. The Decision Committee reviews the materials and makes accreditation decision recommendations to the full board, which then ratifies the decisions during its meetings (usually held in March, July, and November). Throughout the process, ACCME staff members provide support and guidance to volunteer surveyors and committee members. You have to demonstrate compliance with Criteria 1–3 and 7–12 to gain two-year provisional accreditation. After the initial two years, you can apply for four-year accreditation (which entails demonstrating compliance with C1 through C15). Accredited providers found in noncompliance with any of Criterion 1–15 are eligible to achieve accreditation, but will be required to submit progress reports. To achieve six-year accreditation with commendation, providers must show compliance with all the 22 Criteria. (See accme.org for a full list of the accreditation criteria, as well as timelines, examples, FAQs, videos, tutorials, and other resources.)

Along the way, you will need to take an active role in maintaining your compliance and improving your CME program so that you’ll be ready when the next accreditation round begins. Remember, reaccreditation is a 15-month process, so don’t wait until ACCME notifies you that it’s time to reapply to start getting your documents and examples lined up and ready for the next self-study and performance-in-practice review.

This is the first in a three-part series on the ACCME accreditation process for CME providers. The second provides tips on achieving Accreditation with Commendation; and the third details how to bounce back after being placed on probation or receiving a progress report requirement.

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