CME Participation is Increasing Faster Than You Think

Whether you’re looking at the number of activities, hours of instruction, physician interactions, or some other metric, there’s no denying it. Participation in continuing medical education (CME) activities is on the rise.

According to a new report by the ACCME, more CME activities are being completed by an increasingly diverse body of participants. The report draws from data spanning more than a decade, and its conclusions are encouraging.

In a roundup of key takeaways from the report, the ACCME notes that:

This report is great news for the CME world. As we’ll see, it’s great news for learners, too.

Things weren’t always this rosy.

In the wake of the Great Recession, CME participation contracted. According to the ACCME report, 2008 saw a grand total of 1,092,000 CME instructional hours. By the next year, that figure shrank by about 100,000. Later, in 2011, CME providers reported only around 950,000 instructional hours.

Then things got better. By 2012, we saw more CME instructional hours. Since then, that figure has been on the uptick.

One of the reasons for the increase has been the explosion of what the ACCME calls “other learner” interactions. In 2005, there were only 5,321,448 interactions by these non-physician learners. However, throughout the last decade – and even during the recession years – the number of non-physician learners participating in CME activities increased. By 2017, there were almost 13 million learner interactions from this group.

That’s a big deal. Considering physician interactions comprised a little over 15.5 million of the total interactions in 2017, it means CME participants are more professionally diverse than ever before.

It’s the 90% increase in non-physician participation that the ACCME notes in their data roundup. But who are these “other” learners?

Nurses, physician assistants, and pharmacists. That’s who.

This actually makes a lot of sense. As CME becomes more accessible via online platforms and non-physician professionals become the face of healthcare for an increasing number of Americans, it’s only natural that more CME learners will be classified as “other.”

President and CEO of the ACCME, Graham McMahon, considers increasing learner diversity a positive development. “I’m excited about the growing engagement of clinicians in accredited CME,” he states.

Accredited CME providers, of course, aren’t just membership societies and medical journals. They also consist of rural hospitals, universities, and even insurance companies. As more medical professionals in more settings gain access to CME via different types of providers, we’ll start to see even more non-physician CME participants. Soon, their participation could even overtake physician CME interactions.

The ACCME might have to rename their “other” category.

What does increasing CME diversity mean for learners?

More learning opportunities. More activity formats. More flexibility for earning CME credits. For learners, that’s what increasing diversity can bring.

Today, CME providers must cater to the needs of a new generation of learners. These learners, as we’ve seen, are more diverse than ever. They’re not just physicians – they’re clinicians of all stripes. Not only do they have different needs in terms of educational content; they also have different expectations for how they receive their CME and on what terms.

Unsurprisingly, a large percentage of them prefer online activities to live ones.

To meet these needs, CME providers like you must harness technologies that:

Otherwise, you’re at risk of frustrating your learners. And that’s no way to encourage their continued participation or help them love your platform.

Did we mention patients benefit from CME learner diversity?

In America’s healthcare status quo, more patients are receiving more medical treatment from non-physician professionals. Physician assistant employment is exploding. The same holds true for the nursing market.

These clinicians should be participating in CME. Thanks to the latest ACCME data, we know that they are. That’s a fantastic thing for patients.

As the CME world continues to assess and prioritize patient outcomes among ACCME accredited providers, increased learner diversity can further improve patient health. Just as their physician counterparts do, non-physician learners are obtaining CME, applying the acquired knowledge in real-world practice, and reporting their progress to CME providers. In turn, providers draw from these learners’ experiences to improve CME activities for future generations.

It’s a virtuous cycle that results in a healthier society – even if “other” participants are the ones leading the charge.