Each year, millions of dollars and innumerable hours are invested into creating independent medical education (IME) activities across the globe. The goal of these activities is to provide physicians and other healthcare professionals (HCPs) with the most up-to-date information regarding the care and treatment of patients, with an ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes. While this is an admirable goal, is there any proof that IME is successful at impacting outcomes in practice?
According to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), a key accrediting body for continuing medical education in the United States, there is unequivocal proof that CME and IME have a profound impact on clinical practice. In their 2014 review of the effectiveness of CME, the ACCME found that CME has a positive impact on both physician performance and patient outcomes. This review found that CME that is more interactive, uses more methods, involves multiple exposures, and is focused on information of interest to the physician leads to more positive outcomes. Furthermore, research by the American Hospital Association’s Physician Leadership Forum shows that investment in CME has helped hospitals improve physician performance, patient outcomes, and care coordination, as well as improving teamwork and leadership skills. These data are supported by several smaller case studies in which participation in IME activities was found to directly impact outcomes in practice. For example, in a study examining the impact of prostate cancer education on patient care, 68% of physicians who participated in 2 years of targeted CME reported a positive impact on clinical practice, and 59% reported an improvement in patient outcomes as a result of the education.
The medical field is constantly changing, with advances in patient care emerging on a weekly basis. In the absence of carefully developed, focused medical education, the average HCP can easily lose track of developments and miss essential information. In some cases, such as missing an update on managing drug toxicity, the lack of information can have seriously detrimental effects on patient health and well-being. Independent medical education provides an opportunity to fill these information gaps and ensure HCPs have all the necessary knowledge and skills to provide best patient care. The importance of IME as a source of education can be seen in physician opinions. Continuing medical education and IME consistently rank higher than other sources of information, including journals and treatment guidelines.
Beyond the direct impact on patient care, IME also influences clinical practice by acting as an unbiased source of medical information. In a survey the prIME Oncology network, 92% of physicians indicated they trust information from an IME activity over that available on a pharmaceutical website. This is supported by a 2015 survey by EPG Health Media, in which only 8% of respondents attributed any value to pharmaceutical brand websites, while 57% said that independent medical websites were more valuable sources of information.
The impact of IME on clinical practice can be seen across the continuum of care. From ensuring physicians are up-to-date on the most recent treatment strategies to providing an unbiased source of medical information, IME is actively working toward the goal of improving patient outcomes.