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What Do Your Learners Really Expect from CME?

by The Rievent Team

Improved patient outcomes, useful insights, credits needed to satisfy board requirements – these are just some of the things most learners expect from their CME. However, these expectations aren’t the end-all, be-all upshot of continuing medical education. Far from it.

According to a recent JAMA article co-authored by ACCME President and CEO, Graham McMahon, and AMA Group VP of Medical Education, Susan Skochelak, learner expectations often transcend the obvious “we do CME, we get info, we get credit” mentality. They write:

Today’s learners increasingly and appropriately expect their education to be professionally delivered, tailored to their needs and their practice environment, and [supportive of] process and quality improvement.

There are three different learner expectations listed there. Per McMahon and Skochelak, learners are looking for CME that’s:

  1. Professionally delivered
  2. Tailored to their needs and practice environment
  3. Supportive of process and quality improvement

What do these expectations entail – and how, as a CME provider, can you meet them?

Professional delivery demands a professional experience.

There are a couple of senses in which content delivery might feel “professional.” The first has to do with presentation. A live speaker or a piece of written content needs to exude confidence and expertise. After all, few seasoned physicians will feel like they’ve learned anything from an inexperienced speaker who makes glaring errors behind the podium.

But there’s another kind of professionalism to consider as well: the overall feel of your CME experience.

To understand what we mean by “feel,” imagine you’re an editor and you’ve been invited to interview at a major journal – a bigger publication than the one you work for today. You’re excited about the prospect of working for this publisher, so you prepare like crazy for the interview.

It’s the big day. You arrive on time to the publication’s headquarters, but something is wrong. The door is locked. It’s after 9:00 AM, so you figure somebody ought to be there. You knock and knock to no avail. The building is empty.

Around 9:15, a few people arrive. They unlock the door and let you in. Then they ask you to have a seat. There’s a small plastic chair in the corner, so you sit there. 20 minutes after your interview was supposed to start, someone finally ushers you into a room. The people who let you in the building are there. They hadn’t mentioned that they’d be the ones interviewing you! As they begin asking questions, it’s clear they’ve neither read your resume nor prepared any probing inquiries into your skill set.

At this point, you’ve decided not to take the job even if it’s offered to you. The reason? The utterly unprofessional interview experience.

An unprofessional CME experience can repel your learners in much the same way. Examples of clunky, less-than-professional CME include:

  • Software that breaks while learners are trying to complete an activity
  • Multiple pieces of software with poor integration
  • Unclear instructions or poor interface design that make it difficult to complete basic tasks, like choosing activities or viewing transcripts
  • Offline requests that should be easy to complete online, such as on-demand certificates and transcripts
  • Lack of support for certain activity types, so learners have to log into multiple applications to register for or participate in different activities

The solution, of course, is to invest in software that avoids those problems and integrates every conceivable CME-related task. Learners shouldn’t have to wait, feel frustrated, or rack their brains trying to figure out how to use your software.

The entire experience should be easy; it should also feel comprehensive – like there’s nothing they have to do that they can’t achieve with your CME software.

But most of all, it should feel professional.

Design CME to fit your learners’ needs – and their lives.

This one’s about making it easy for learners to identify and participate in relevant activities. How well do you do this today? If you’re like many CME providers, you have a system (or systems) that require learners to…

  • Visit a specific page on your public website to view current CME activity information
  • Use third party apps for eCommerce and credit card processing
  • Update their own calendars and log into your CME system to see venue information
  • Sift through a long list of activities to find something relevant
  • Call or email you to request a transcript, certificate, or other documentation
  • Sign in with paper attendance sheets and complete handwritten evaluations

Arrangements like these typically aren’t well tailored to your learners’ needs.

For starters, there’s your public website. Random, unpredictable updates make it hard for learners to find the right activities at the right times and register or participate in them. A better approach is to add all activities to a searchable activity catalog. Learners log into your software, navigate to the catalog, and enter search terms or use familiar search filters to find the right activities. That’s easier.

Then there’s the live event experience. When learners register for an event – preferably one they’ve found in your calendar interface! – they should be able to pay without a hitch, receive a calendar update, and get emails for payment confirmation, venue info, and event reminders.

All necessary forms and documentation should also be available to learners on demand through your CME software. Certificates and transcripts should be just a few clicks away and be automatically updated with activities your learners completed just moments ago.

Remember, your learners are busy. They don’t have time to dig through the depths of your website to hunt down information or wait to receive a transcript via snail mail. Nowadays, they expect you to tailor CME to their situation. With the right software, that’s not hard to do.

Help learners report performance improvement.

Remember: learners need CME so they can be better practitioners of their craft. Through CME, you’re helping physicians improve how they work, be more effective, and improve more lives. You’re shooting for real-world impact – and you want to know when your efforts are paying off! So do your learners.

One of the learner expectations noted by McMahon and Skochelak is “support for process and quality improvement.” There are different ways to achieve that, but we really like this one:

Give your learners the opportunity to report performance change. Then use their testimony to continuously enhance your CME.

It’s a virtuous cycle. Ask learners how your CME has influenced their real-world practice. Then compile their responses, analyze the data, and draw from it to make changes that encourage further process improvement and patient outcomes.

Everybody benefits. Patients benefit the most.

One way to do this is to create a post-activity follow-up survey in a standardized format. Send it to learners via email a few weeks after they’ve completed an activity. At a minimum, you can ask them:

  • How familiar they were with the subject matter prior to the activity
  • Whether they learned something new and valuable
  • If they made a change to their practice based on what they learned
  • Whether the changes they made had a positive impact on patient outcomes

Needless to say, the post-activity survey shouldn’t be an afterthought when you’re creating your activity. It should be part of the activity design!

Identify the specific process improvements you’re targeting and include them in the survey. Set up the survey so that your CME software automatically distributes it to learners at a specified interval following their completion of the activity.

And if your existing CME software doesn’t support automated post-activity outcomes surveys, it’s time to invest in a platform that does.

Learners love it when you meet expectations.

They love it even more when you exceed them.

Your goal in addressing these expectations is helping learners be even better at what they’re already good at doing. That’s paramount. Better CME technology can help you get there. It can also help you demonstrate to learners that the education they’re receiving is truly impacting the lives of patients.

If the experience makes them enjoy CME more than they did before, all the better.