Changing CME: Q&A with Diane Bartoli, VP & GM, epocrates

The pharmaceutical industry has long spent big sums on Continuing Medical Education (CME). In fact, pharma accounted for 32% of CME funding in 2020. Medical education is often seen as one of the most important marketing tools that pharmaceutical companies have in their toolbelt to reach physicians about innovative therapeutics addressing significant areas of unmet medical need. With nearly one-in-four physicians finding pharma sponsorship of medical education to have a positive impact on brand perception, pharma marketers have now have another unique opportunity to share hyper-personalized information through some of the most credible third-party channels.

Pharm Exec: What are the drivers of digital CME? How has that changed over time?

Diane Bartoli: Clinicians have always been busy, but many are facing increasing time pressures due to administrative burdens, staffing shortages, and an aging patient population. Instead of having dedicated time set aside to stay abreast of the latest medical developments, many are having to find the time between patient appointments.

As a result, we have found that clinicians are increasingly turning to third-party digital channels, with the majority of growth seen in CME, and now they even prefer using these resources. There’s a clear reason why too. Rather than having to attend two conferences each year to learn about a topic, many would rather access a variety of course options specifically designed to meet their busy schedules or learn about a topic that is relevant to their individual practices, online or through a mobile app – from shorter ‘snackable’ 15-minute activities that can be accessed in the moment, to in-depth longer form activities.

The quality of digital CME offerings has also greatly improved over time, with the user experience as a top priority that’s now reflected across a variety of formats – video, audio, text, and case studies. Further, the clinicians turning to digital CME can trust that they’re receiving the latest guidance since the content typically remains available for one year. That’s because all activities are accredited by an approved CME accreditation provider, and as such, they have specific expiration dates.

How did the pandemic impact the CME ecosystem?

While in-person medical events and conferences have historically been one of the most popular ways for physicians to attain CME, the pandemic left many searching for alternative ways to receive the credits needed to maintain their medical licensure. However, this trend was already making headway before COVID-19. The pandemic simply accelerated the industry’s existing transition to digital CME following a universal shift to offer a variety of content that better aligns with the needs of clinicians and their expectations around user experience.

While conferences won’t be eliminated after all restrictions are lifted, we’ve found that more than half (54%) of physicians1 are likely to participate in a virtual medical conference after the pandemic ends. It’s one of the primary reasons we’re investing heavily in the digital tools needed for clinicians to easily access personalized CME content.

What have you learned about how clinicians consume CME activities? Is there anything surprising?

We’re witnessing clinicians are increasingly taking control of when and how they consume medical information. While many are turning to snackable content between patient appointments, our own research has also found that that the majority now prefer to catch up on medical information in the comfort of their own homes.

What we’ve learned from our own CME feature is that a full 19 percent of user engagement takes place on Saturday, outside of standard working hours for many clinicians. Additionally, the majority of this activity during the weekday takes place around the lunch hour or late in the night. One of our most surprising findings has been that those who begin accessing CME activities at 2:00 in the morning are the most likely to complete them. This means that convenience is key to their experience and can’t be replicated by traditional in-person conferences.

What feedback do you get from your audience about digital CME?

Through our regular conversations with clinicians, we have a unique window into their current learning needs. What we’ve heard is that, as patient volumes and caseloads ramp up, their attention spans are the biggest challenge. Clinicians are sharing that digital CME has been “low stress,” a “good value for the effort,” “simple and concise,” and “takes very little time.”

Overall, the ‘snackable’ CME has been especially attractive for clinicians, with 40 percent of our total users engaging with these shorter 15-minute activities. In particular, many users have been particularly engaged with the short-form video-based learning activities. Additionally, while CME content span across a wide variety of specialties and therapeutic areas, we’ve found that there are particular areas receiving the most engagement: family practice, psychiatry, internal medicine, and emergency medicine.

What’s your vision for the future of your CME channel?

Earlier this year, we made it a strategic priority to reintroduce CME content as a no-cost digital offering to help fill a crucial (and growing) industry need—staying abreast of the latest medical developments to enhance practices and help clinicians deliver the highest quality of care. We’re continuing to listen to how we can best support clinicians as they engage in CME content, and this will continue to be a key area of focus for us in the future.

Our goal is to combine what we’re hearing from clinicians with our digital expertise to build a state-of-the-art CME experience. Right now, that includes developing features that are personalized to the individual user and can surface other relevant activities, similar to how Netflix offers suggestions based on what’s been viewed in the past. Overall, we believe that we are in a great position to continue building out an experience that provides content in one place and that is tailored to a clinician’s specialty, practice, and their unique needs.

1 Decision Resources Group, “Taking the Pulse: 2020 U.S. Physician Survey” and previous editions