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(Editor’s note: Nancy Beckley, MS, MBA, president of Rehabilitation Seminars of Tampa, FL, a division of Bloomingdale Consulting Group of Valrico, FL, discusses some of the major changes that have occurred in recent years with regard to rehabilitation continuing education seminars and conferences. Rehab Continuum Report asks Beckley what forces are pushing these changes and what we might expect in the future.)
RCR: What sort of changes have occurred in rehabilitation continuing education in recent years, and what are the forces that have contributed to these changes? For example, who is paying for the required continuing education in rehab now, and how has this changed?
Beckley: Throughout most of the ’90s, continuing education was part of a recruitment and retention package offered by both large and small employers. Continuing education employer sponsorship was one of the first perks to go in the post-Balanced Budget Act of 1997 era. Another change is that state therapy associations seem to be making an effort to have additional opportunities for members to get CE credit.
RCR: Your company has tracked data about rehab continuing education seminars over the past five years. What has your research shown?
Beckley: I’ve tracked information primarily for continuing education courses for physical, occupational, and speech therapists for their biannual license renewal in Florida. Five years ago, the majority of attendees to these workshops had their registration fees paid directly by their employer. Three years ago the split was about 50% employer-paid and 50% therapist-paid, with about half of that being paid by personal credit card.
For registrations this year, 85% are personally paying for continuing education courses for license renewal, and within that 85%, nearly three-quarters are paying by personal credit card. About 15% of attendees this year report that they are no longer in the rehab field because of lack of employment. A disproportionate number are physical therapy assistants.
RCR: How are seminar companies such as yours keeping costs down to meet the rehab industry’s demand for less expensive educational avenues?
Beckley: Well, we no longer serve orange juice as part of the continental breakfast. Seriously, bulk mail costs increased several times over the past several years; printing fees and hotel fees also have increased. So in a time of increasing prices, therapists are having to dig into their own pockets to pay for CE courses. I have attempted to keep the same pricing structure for the past five years — with only a slight increase for certain speakers or topics, especially where a large handout is part of the presentation, or extensive audiovisual requirements are present.
In networking with other colleagues around the country, I find that most are doing the same thing; the hotel selection is a critical component. We all are looking for a "decent" hotel where the guarantees are at a minimum — where it is possible to rent a meeting room for a reasonable fee without having to purchase breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks, and guarantee a minimum of sleeping rooms. At first I worried that people would be upset by these changes, but actually I have let attendees know that first and foremost affordability was our concern.
This year, for example, I held seminars at a new Homewood Suites Hotel in Orlando, and the room was wonderful. A box lunch was included, but gone was the continental breakfast, coffee breaks, and a block of sleeping rooms. For year-end seminars this year, Rehab Seminars eliminated coffee service. This allowed us to avoid raising prices by the $5 per person that coffee costs!
RCR: What are some of the non-technological trends that are emerging in the area of rehabilitation continuing education?
Beckley: In reviewing course evaluations this past year, the key item that attendees seem to point to when evaluating a course is its direct applicability to the work situation. The trend seems to be in practicability of application directly to the work setting. Attendees want to know techniques, procedures, or new methods that they can implement on Monday morning.
RCR: How has technology changed home-study continuing education coursework? What are some examples of new types of "classrooms?"
Beckley: Technologies of the new millennium bring new venues to continuing education. Several companies now offer "on-line" continuing education courses. Dynamic Online Seminars offers a full slate of courses that are certified for CE credit in multiple states. The idea is that you register online, receive a password to get your course materials and proceed with a course that has about 10 learning modules, comprising three lessons each.
Attendees take the course from the comfort of their home or office, complete assignments, and take a quiz. Then they are awarded their CE credits. No need to fight traffic, or take time off from work. These credits often count as "home-study" credits for the purpose of license renewal. Rehab Seminars also is developing a series of teleclasses. People register online and are given a phone number to call at the designated course time.
Special bridge lines hold from 30 participants to over 150 participants. Once again, there are no travel costs. Most courses taken in this fashion qualify as "live" courses, rather than home study courses. Presumably these courses also are more cost-effective to offer because the hotel and meeting costs are eliminated.
RCR: It seems that professional seminars and continuing education courses used to be a good excuse to send staff on a mini-vacation to an attractive city. For instance, many health care seminars are held in Orlando, where attendees can bring their families to visit Disney World. Are rehab facilities less likely now to pay for these types of professional trips, and why?
Beckley: This past year I ran courses in Las Vegas, Orlando, and Los Angeles, as well as less glamorous venues. The course content attracts people to the course — the content then is weighed by the potential attendee against the total cost of attending. That’s where the strategy comes in. You want your whole package to be attractive to the potential attendee, but you want the price to be affordable. In general, the days are gone when you could offer a seminar in a destination city in a nice hotel and have the employer pay for it.
RCR: Have the cutbacks in money for rehab continuing education had any effect on the quality of advanced training and education that rehab professionals have received? For instance, are therapists less likely to learn a new technique if it means traveling to a more expensive site for a costly seminar?
Beckley: There are still "expensive" courses out there, and I suspect that courses with a specialty focus — such as dysphagia training, etc — that lead to therapist certification will continue to have participants. Now it is often the choice of therapists to determine if they will attend a more technically oriented course with a higher fee.
Therapists will have to take into consideration the total costs incurred — travel, time off work, seminar costs — and weigh those against the advantages of the training such as job advancement and future opportunities.
RCR: What do you believe will be some of the future trends in rehab continuing education?
Beckley: There are two distinct needs in the therapist continuing education market: education for the purpose of gaining new skills, and education for the purpose of meeting state licensing requirements. Companies offering continuing education will have to conduct target segment marketing to cost-effectively promote their seminars.
Postage increases are coming up again next year, so it will harder to keep the prices the same as this year. Technology will continue to advance so that opportunities for nontraditional learning will expand, such as Internet-based courses and teleclasses.
Employers, particularly medium to large employers, also are beginning to realize that offering continuing education courses in on-site formats is cost-effective and a nice employee benefit. Savvy therapists should get a plan together and propose a continuing education program that is cost-effective for the employer, is perceived by the employee as a benefit, and provides education as well as continuing education credit.