Fifty Percent of Continuing Medical Education Will Be Delivered Online by 2016

Most physicians receive their continuing medical education through live seminars and conferences, but that may soon change. A new study predicts that physicians will receive as much as 50 percent of their continuing medical education online by 2016.

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Like many other healthcare professionals, physicians are required to complete a certain amount of continuing medical education (CME) each year to stay up-to-date on new developments and safety measurements in the industry.

The number of credit hours physicians must complete varies depending on the state in which they practice. Most states require between 10 and 50 hours. Some states also dictate CME content, demanding that physicians take courses in risk management, patient safety or end of life care.

Continuing medical education courses are typically developed and delivered by professional associations, medical education agencies, hospitals and education institutions such as universities and medical schools. For the last several decades, physicians have obtained most of their CME through in-person attendance at seminars or conferences. However, a recent study suggests that trend is about to change.

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CME Delivered Via the Internet

A new study published in the Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions predicts that 50% of continuing medical education (CME) for physicians will be delivered via the Internet by 2016. The prediction is bold considering that only 9% of physicians received their CME online in 2008. On the other hand, the study's findings are consistent with current trends in higher education.

Online enrollments have increased much faster than overall higher education enrollments, according to the Sloan Consortium's seventh annual report on online education. Between 2007 and 2009, the entire higher education population grew by only 1.2% whereas online enrollments increased 17%. The latest statistics show that one in every four students takes at least one course online.

The authors of the CME study also observed that most online CME courses are prepared by commercial education companies. Live presentations, in contrast, are often prepared by academic centers and professional societies and funded by pharmaceutical companies. When commercial interests become involved in funding and curriculum design, there is always a risk that the CME content itself may not be free of commercial interests.

Online CME courses are also increasingly attractive because they are distributed to physicians for free or at a very low cost. For healthcare professionals who have to pay for their own CME and hospitals that are looking to tighten their budgets, lower costs may automatically trump other options.

Dr. John Harris Jr., President of Medical Directions, Inc. and the study's lead author, called the findings 'very provocative.'

'We can expect far more changes in how CME is developed, distributed, and probably paid for in the next 10 years than we have seen in the past 30,' Harris said.

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