by Jonathan Vatner | January 01, 2007

Victoria Ceh and Diane Alberson


Victoria Ceh, left,  oversaw the effort
to make the International Society of
Hair Restoration Surgery one of the most
exemplary CME providers in the United States.
Diane Alberson, right, of the Society of Critical
Care Medicine created an ACCME-friendly
tool kit for developing new programs.

Most companies that provide continuing medical education undergo a rigorous tire-kicking every four years by the Chicago-based Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. The process involves a written report, often of several hundred pages, and a comprehensive site visit. To prepare for accreditation, CME providers are given a set of general guidelines that must be translated into specific actions -- not an easy task. To an organization that has to undergo this process for the first time, the experience can be harrowing.

Despite appearances, the ACCME is not out to make the lives of CME providers difficult. As an aid, the council publishes a list of those few providers who have achieved “exemplary compliance” on one or more of the 10 required elements for accreditation. The best of these companies have been granted a special “accreditation with commendation” status, a category that gives providers added prestige and an extra two years before having to renew. These stars of the industry -- those who received commendation and those who are on track to -- were only too happy to share their best practices with M&C.

The wrench in the gears is that the ACCME has announced a major change in the way accreditation will be granted (see “New Criteria on the Horizon”), which will require CME providers to step up their efforts in the coming years. What became apparent when talking to these meeting planners, however, is that the best companies already are doing most of what the ACCME will be requiring. What’s equally clear is that groundbreaking methods for planning continuing medical education -- good record keeping, constant tweaking and active collection of feedback -- are applicable not just to medical meetings, but to meetings in all industries.

Benchmark Medical Consultants
Exemplary in:
Needs Assessment, Activity Evaluation, Program Evaluation

Benchmark Medical Consultants is a Sacramento, Calif.-based company that provides administrative support for doctors who serve as medical experts in courtrooms. After the company received standard accreditation in 2000, Craig Vreeken, CME director, wanted to do even better. Vreeken went to an accreditation workshop put on by the ACCME in Chicago to figure out how to improve the company’s score. He says it was very helpful to see what documents the site surveyors use to evaluate a program. Now that he knows what they’re looking for, he approaches every activity thinking about how to achieve an exemplary score.

Benchmark takes special care in collecting attendee needs-assessment data. The company surveys attendees once a year, including some verbal interviews, and keeps up on the hot topics in the industry by reviewing journal articles and glancing at competitors’ agendas.

The company also compiles report cards on the doctors’ courtroom testimony and gives individual feedback based on their performance. Those reports make great fodder for deciding which topics to cover in future education sessions. “If 35 percent of our doctors are not addressing one topic, we really should address it in an educational activity,” says Vreeken.

Another source of data comes from the doctors’ legal clients, who may or may not be happy with aspects of doctor testimony. Benchmark keeps a spreadsheet of all the doctors’ performance ratings and then targets the weakest areas.

Constant benchmarking also allows Vreeken to show that his programs were effective. If the doctors who attended a particular session improve in their ratings on that subject, the improvement can be linked pretty convincingly to the education.

“We know our CME activities have made an impact on the performance of doctors,” says Vreeken. “That’s exactly what the ACCME is looking for in terms of outcomes.”

To education providers looking to improve measurements of success, Vreeken suggests looking closely at what measurements already are taken, and brainstorming ways to use that information.