We have written numerous times that continuing medical education (CME), including commercially supported programs, have improved patient outcomes in areas such as multiple sclerosis, hypertension, COPD, ICU patients, improved taking of family history by physician assistants, Sepsis, healthcare-associated infections, reduction in CT scans, and several other areas.
While expenditures for CME exceed $2 billion annually, few studies report the economic impact of CME activities. However, a recent study shows that CME can save significant costs to the healthcare system even when a modest number of doctors change their practice as a result of what they have learned.
The research was presented on May 22 at the 18th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) in New Orleans, LA. The study was conducted by CMEology, West Hartford, CT—a leader in CME and innovator in outcomes research—and presented by Dana Ravyn, PhD, MPH, Scientific Director and Senior Analyst at CMEology.
“With the changing nature of healthcare economics, there was a need to communicate the benefits of CME, and everyone understands costs,” said Dr. Ravyn, “Studies have not typically evaluated the economic impact of CME because doing so requires extensive follow up that is both time consuming and cost prohibitive.” Using computer models, the authors could inexpensively estimate the range of potential cost savings from CME activities.
“Historically few, if any, rigorous economic models have been applied to understanding the impact of CME—by pioneering these efforts, this research is groundbreaking. Efforts like these must be recognized as the future of CME assessment,” said Brian S. McGowan, PhD, Chief Learning Officer & Co-Founder of ArcheMedX, Inc. With the availability of these data, stakeholders are now able to make better decisions on how to allocate limited resources as well as evaluate CME programming economic outcomes.
The study evaluated the economic impact when cardiac and thoracic surgeons applied learning from a CME activity about the prevention of bleeding-related complications. The model base case predicted what would happen if 30% of learners prevented bleeding complications in 2% of their annual surgeries. The savings estimates ranged from $1.5 to $2.7 million, depending on the type of complication, and findings were similar to clinical trials evaluating cost savings from interventions.
Participants who completed an evaluation at the time of the symposium and one year later reported a high commitment to incorporating learning into practice.
One of the challenges faced by contemporary CME is the ability to demonstrate its value to stakeholders, healthcare payers, and society. According to Michael R. Lemon, MBA, FACEHP, CCMEP of Postgraduate Institute for Medicine “Few studies exist that demonstrate economic benefits or the cost effectiveness of CME. Therefore, the ability to demonstrate the impact of CME on healthcare costs is timely and needed, as economic data provide a universally understood outcome measure.”
While significant for the findings related to surgical complications, the broader implication of this research is the creation of a model that can be applied to almost any therapy area and learning format. “New models for understanding the impact of CME are desperately needed and this work lays the foundation for a myriad of new questions being asked—and that is what science is all about,” according to Dr. McGowan.
“The study from CMEology comes at a crucial time for CME when segments of the healthcare environment are under pressure to cut budgets and enhance efficiency. CME has consistently demonstrated its importance to the professional development of healthcare providers, but the economic piece of the puzzle has been missing.”
“In a time of diminishing funding and increased scrutiny from all stakeholders, it is vital to prove the value of continuing education. This study is documented validation of the importance of CME/CE and its impact on both healthcare costs and patient outcomes,” said Nathan Scott, Education Director of Medical Education Resources.