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If you’ve ever scrambled at the last minute to find a nearby conference to fulfill your continuing medical education (CME) requirements or sat through lengthy seminars while patient demands piled up in your office, you can appreciate the value of getting at least part of your continuing medical education over the Internet.
The Internet is providing physicians with more options for fulfilling their CME requirements. The courses you need are readily available any time and anywhere you choose.
"Prior to the advent of Internet CME, physicians had to get their education at conferences. This took them out of the office and away from their personal and professional lives," says Scott Beck, chief sales and marketing officer of Medimorphus.com, a Salt Lake City firm offering career development services, health care recruiting and CME over the Internet through a partnership with Healthstream.
Now, you can simply log on to a site, take a course during your lunch hour or when you have a little extra time because a patient didn’t show up for an appointment. There are a growing number of sites that offer thousands of hours of CME credit and that allow you to scan and identify areas of interest before you sign up for the course.
If you are interested in taking a CME course, you enter your credit card number if there is a charge, read the course material, digest the information and take an exam at the end. If you pass, an electronic certification may be available on the spot or e-mailed to you at a later date.
It’s considerably cheaper than going to a conference, particularly when you factor in travel costs and other expenses.
"Internet CME is a concept whose time has come," asserts Jean Lalonde, co-founder and president of I.C. Axon, a Montreal firm that created MyPatient.com (www.mypatient.com), an interactive case-based physician educational site. "The convenience of the Internet is really important. It provides a huge opportunity for learning, not just three times a year when you fly away to attend a convention, but anywhere and any time," he adds.
There generally are three types of organizations that offer CME online:
• content producers who produce the content for the online courses;
• aggregators that compile content from a number sources and make it accessible through links at their site;
• university organizations that offer limited courses on certain subjects from their own sites.
Sponsored CME usually is financed by unrestricted grants from a pharmaceutical company that puts its advertisement on the sites and is usually free, while non-sponsored content has no advertising and is available for a nominal fee.
American Health Consultants, publisher of Physician’s Managed Care Report, developed its CMEWeb.com site (www.cmeweb.com) four years ago after noting a large number of calls in November and December from physicians facing end-of-the year deadlines for earning CME, says Marcus Underwood, director of new media and content licensing.
"We talked to some of the physicians and discovered it was a common problem," he adds. The company put some of its information online and the physicians asked for more. "They can take it day and night and take as little or as much as they need," Underwood says.
While CME on the Internet offers a lot of opportunities for physicians, it does have its downside, Lalonde points out. "The information available is extremely broad and diverse and this gives physicians a lot of opportunities. On the other hand, because it is broad with a lot of diversity, there is a challenge to weed out what you need," he adds.
One of the problems of online CME sites is that there is no standard navigational tool and no standard expectations have been developed, Lalonde points out. This means you have to learn to navigate your way through each site. You may also need to look at several sites before finding one that meets you needs.
"No online service has been able to identify the exact needs of an individual physician. I don’t think any one site provides a comprehensive solution right now," Lalonde says.
When I.C. Axon was planning its online CME courses, it began by working with nearly 300 physicians, asking them to name their most memorable moment in medical education. "By and large they tended to say that the cases they studied during rounds formed their most memorable undergraduate experiences. There was an overwhelming consensus that case-based learning was important," he says. The company concluded that case studies delivered online would be a familiar way for physicians to learn.
With Internet CME, you miss the personal interactions that you get at conferences. You don’t have a chance for group discussions or to question the expert directly, points out Randall Killian, MS, MBA, executive vice president and director of CME for the National Association of Managed Care Physicians, in Glen Allen, VA. His organization offers both conference-based and online CME courses.
The questions that are asked after you complete an online CME course may not be the questions that you need answered, he adds.
"Internet training is great for physicians who want some just-in-time training on various disease states, treatment protocols, and new pharmaceutical products," he says.
Technology is another problem. If you don’t have the latest computer and high-speed Internet access, you may find yourself spending more time waiting for a site to load than it takes to read the course materials. "In health care, one of the challenges is the level of technology within the institutions. If you don’t have the most up-to-date technology available, it takes some of the value out of the Internet," Beck says.