Tools to Determine the Economic Impact of CME

CME clearly has tremendous value for helping improve the care physicians provide and the outcomes patients receive. Various studies have shown that CME has 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 such outcomes can easily be measured in longer lives or less pain or adverse side effects, a pressing problem that has faced CME over the years is showing how such education can produce dollar savings in patient care. However, in June, a recent study found that accredited continuing medical education (CME) helped reduce healthcare costs.

Consequently, recently wrote an article discussing a new computer model designed by medical education company CMEology to help CME providers and stakeholders address concerns about how continuing education can produce patient savings. CMEology is the same group that conducted the study noted above that showed CME can help reduce healthcare costs and lead to millions in savings, “even when only a modest number of participants change their behavior as a result of the activity.”

The author of the article, Rob Lowney, principal/managing director of CMEology, noted that despite the wealth of money being spent on accredited CME (over $2 billion based on the ACCME’s 2012 annual report) there have been few studies looking at the economic impact of CME. Lowney suggested that one reason is because “collecting and analyzing patient-level economic data is cost-prohibitive, time-consuming, labor-intensive—and often unrealistic given shrinking CME budgets.”

Recognizing that economic outcomes should be reported routinely, CMEology researched ways to measure cost savings associated with CME. The goal was to bring economic measures within reach while meeting the high standards expected for outcomes measures and policy decision-making.

The CMEology team turned to existing health economic models that have served as the basis for policy making and expenditure allocations. “Adapting these approaches to the needs of CME, the group developed a computer model. The approach, called outcomes impact  analysis, or OIA, estimates costs averted when CME activity participants return to their practices and apply what they learned to change the health outcomes of their patients. Using state-of-the-art statistical and probability methodology, the mathematical model provides a reliable estimate of cost savings.”

One of the strengths of OIA, Lowney noted, “is that it uses probabilistic sensitivity analysis that simultaneously considers the impact of all the real-life ranges of the different variables in the model. The result is a robust range of the estimated cost savings within which the true value is highly likely to fall.”

“While the culmination of extensive research, the OIA model is designed to be practical and applied, requiring only off-the-shelf software. The approach can be used for any therapeutic area or educational design for which cost data are available,” Lowney maintained. In addition to outcomes, “the model can help decision makers by evaluating the economic impact of different activities before they are initiated. The team hopes these developments will foster greater discussion of economics in CME, as costs are a universally understood language that complement educational outcomes to effectively communicate the value of CME.”

New CME Initiative

In addition to this recent computer model to help calculate healthcare savings from CME, six of the primary organizations serving professionals in the continuing education field have agreed to work together to strengthen the core competencies, measure improvement, and make it easier for continuing healthcare educators to further their careers, reported

The National Commission for Certification of Continuing Medical Education Professionals announced the initiative when it invited the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions, the Society for Academic Continuing Medical Education, the Association for Hospital Medical Education, the Global Alliance for Medical Education, and the Association of American Medical Colleges to discuss how they can collaborate to benefit the organizations at the table, healthcare educators, and ultimately the organizations they work for.

According to Scott Hershman, MD, CCMEP, president of NC-CME, “Three key collaborations were initiated, including:

  1. Development and definition of core skill sets and competencies for CE professionals;
  2. A research grant proposal to develop an education curriculum, competency verification, and measurement of improvement in quality metrics for identified healthcare organizations and
  3. A pathway for membership, education, and certification with discounts at each step across all of the organizations.

“This is a great starting point and it is our hope that, as this moves forward, other organizations with a common interest will join and help to expand the effort,” said Hershman.

As a first step, “the organizations decided to develop and define the core skills sets and competencies professionals working in the field of continuing education in the health professions need to be effective. Building on the work started by NC-CME, which already offers the Certified CME Professional designation, they also began to develop a research grant proposal to underwrite efforts to find out how a credential or certification could result in improved patient care, which in turn would have benefits for the organizations who employ certified CE professionals.”

“Work already has begun developing the core skill sets and competencies,” Hershman said in a press release, “and the research grant proposal has been initiated. All of the organizations agreed to continue their discussions to further develop the collaborations and further the work they initiated.”

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