When it comes to independent medical education (IME) providers, there are a lot of options. There are currently hundreds of companies offering educational activities, with new providers emerging each year. Given the number of options, it’s difficult to know who to trust with your educational programming. Here are five factors to consider when evaluating an IME provider.
Focus. There seem to be two main types of IME companies: Those that focus on a single medical area, and those who cover a wide range of disciplines. Some companies may only provide education to allergists, while others may educate allergists alongside oncologists, cardiologists, and psychiatrists. While there may be merit in both approaches, a company that is focused on a single area is able to provide a level of expertise and commitment that can’t be matched by a company with more broad coverage. This can be seen in their clinical staff, who are able to concentrate their knowledge and continuing development to a single area, allowing them to remain completely updated on the cutting edge of research. It can also be seen in their relationship with physicians. A company that focuses within a single discipline is able to grow strong connections with both thought leaders and community physicians.
Expertise. Without question, the expertise of a company is one of the most important factors marking it as a leader in IME. This is both the expertise of their clinical staff, who create the content of their educational offerings, and of the company as a whole. A robust clinical staff with a long history of medical knowledge is best able to create accurate and meaningful educational content. And a company that has a history of providing excellent education is most likely to continue providing high-quality educational offerings. As the saying goes, past quality is the best indicator of future quality. While a new, less-established company may have other attributes, there is no guarantee their educational product will be high quality and clinically useful.
Recognition. One factor that stands above others in marking a company with the expertise necessary to create thoughtful, quality education is recognition by educational governing bodies such as the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). For nearly 40 years, the ACCME has set the standards for quality in medical education, and any educational offering created by a company that is accredited by the ACCME is expected to meet these high standards. This is true regardless of whether the activity in question is CME certified, or if it is IME. ACCME accreditation is voluntary, meaning that any organization that has undergone the rigorous accreditation process has demonstrated a commitment to quality education. Beyond ACCME accreditation, some organizations achieve the distinction of being “Accredited With Commendation.” This is the mark of an educational provider that has been recognized for the excellence of their educational activities. According to the ACCME, “Accreditation With Commendation criteria are designed to serve as a guidepost for the future of CME” and this extra level of distinction is meant to recognize the achievements of medical education providers who operate at the highest levels of quality and innovation. Only around 21% of organizations that achieve ACCME accreditation are awarded the further distinction of being Accredited With Commendation, a statistic that underpins the difficulty in achieving such commendation and the high standards of quality it represents.
Network. Regardless of the quality of an educational activity, its impact will be minimal if there is no audience. There are several strategies to attract an audience for IME activities, whether they are satellite symposia at major congresses, small local meetings, or online educational modules. One of the best ways to ensure active physician participation is to select an IME company with an established physician network. This network provides a built-in audience of participants and offers major benefits. First, physicians in an IME company’s network have already demonstrated a desire to participate in IME activities, providing a highly focused audience. Second, physicians who choose to join an IME network are demonstrating a level of trust in a company’s activities. They are more likely to participate in future activities, having already experienced the quality of past activities.
Relationships. The role of thought leaders on shaping the direction of IME is unmistakable. They have the expertise to know not only what topics are most important for physicians in their current practice, but also what is on the cutting edge of development. Beyond their expertise, thought leaders are trusted by the medical community at large. They are known for their work in clinical research, and for the developments they usher from bench to bedside. The average physician trusts thought leaders as sources of great expertise, and wants to know their opinion on current and future practice. An IME company who has strong relationships with thought leaders is able to leverage these relationships both in ensuring the creation of quality activities and in engaging physician participants.