Marketing to Professionals: Doctors Get Jump on Continuing Education

Doctors turn to multiple CME channels for more than just credits.
Jun 01, 2006


Anne Goodrich
Most physicians admit that it's a struggle to keep up with the latest breakthroughs in science and medicine. But they also don't mind doing it, because they believe it's their professional responsibility to be lifelong learners. That means there always will be a need for continuing medical education (CME), delivered through a variety of channels, to help healthcare providers deliver the best possible care for their patients.

The pharmaceutical industry has stepped up to deliver much of the continuing education that physicians need. Far from resenting or being suspicious about industry involvement in their educations, more than half of physicians believe that educational grants from pharmaceutical companies have had a positive impact on CME opportunities, according to a 2005 Pri-Med survey (see "Perceptions of Pharma-Funded CME," bottom right). However, with ever more pressure on physicians' time, it's important to hone the delivery of education. The Pri-Med Physician Insights team has conducted regular qualitative and quantitative research studies across multiple physician audiences over the past six months to help CME providers stay abreast of what, when, and how physicians want to be educated.

Be the "Black Belt"


Back for More; Perceptions of Pharma-Funded CME
Physicians' need for CME typically goes beyond the demand for credits alone. In fact, the majority of doctors exceed their credit requirements year after year, investing more time––and in some specialties, significantly more—on CME than they have to. For instance, cardiologists earn an average of 89 credit hours annually, and psychiatrists earn 65 credits each year, when the typical state requirement is only 50 credits every two years. Half of these two groups engage in CME at least twice a month (see "Back for More," below). And, despite their extremely busy practices, primary care physicians also find time to pursue CME twice each month, to earn an average of 58 credits each year.

In-depth interviews with physician participants revealed that the main reason they strive to keep up with the rapid pace of medicine is because they want to be exceptional—to be, as one physician put it, a "black belt." Without the most current information, physicians feel inept, as though they are not able to "do their job" of providing the best possible care for their patients. And reassuring patients that they are receiving the best care has become more difficult, with patients bringing in information gleaned from DTC advertising and online healthcare information. Physicians feel that having confident and thorough answers to patient queries is key to earning their trust, which is a primary factor in how well those patients comply with their treatment regimens.

Where They Get It

Healthcare providers appreciate the availability of various CME channels—most often, live meetings, print, and the Internet––so that they can choose the ones that best meet their lifestyle and educational goals.

Live meetings remain the most popular CME source by far for both specialists and primary care practitioners, accounting for half of all credits earned. PCPs and specialists typically differ, however, in their reasons for attending live conventions with exhibit halls. Whereas half of all cardiologists attend conventions to learn about the latest diagnostic tools and evaluations, the majority of PCPs go to them for updates on new practice guidelines. In fact, less than 20 percent of specialists say they would choose conventions to reach their educational goal.

Online CME is gaining on live meetings, rising in physicians' esteem by 50 percent in the past two years. That's not cutting into live-meeting numbers, however. Of the 53 percent of physicians who plan to earn more online CME hours in the future, two-thirds still expect to attend the same number of live meetings. And print media continues to hold its ground, representing more than 30 percent of PCPs' total CME hours.