AHRQ Report Helps National Council Improve Continuing Medical Education Accreditation

Comparative Effectiveness
May 2009

The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) used AHRQ's Evidence Report No. 149, Effectiveness of Continuing Medical Education, to construct an evidence-based strategic approach to improving continuing medical education (CME) and CME accreditation for physicians.

ACCME is the accrediting body for institutions and organizations providing CME. In order for physicians to receive CME credit, activities must be provided by an institution or organization accredited by ACCME. Approximately 70 percent of U.S. physicians are required by their state medical licensing boards to participate annually in formal, structured CME activities to meet licensure requirements. These physicians, in turn, apply this newly acquired knowledge in the delivery of patient care.

According to Murray Kopelow, MD, Chief Executive of ACCME, "The AHRQ report provided specific evidence in support of CME's ability to promote changes in knowledge, competence, and performance of physicians. The report also provided an objective assessment of the quality of the CME evidence base and challenged the CME enterprise to use the right educational intervention at the right time and to establish an agenda for improving the quality of its research curriculum."

Prior to publication of the AHRQ evidence report, some critics regarded the CME system as a loosely connected set of educators providing courses. They questioned whether the CME activities were effective in changing physicians' delivery of care. The literature was becoming increasingly negative regarding CME, suggesting that it was not effective in keeping physicians current and that it was overly dependant on didactic activities.

Kopelow explains, "The [AHRQ evidence] report provided credibility to the continuing medical education system. We now know that we don't have to deconstruct the process to achieve effective outcomes, such as improved physician knowledge and practice. We simply need to improve the methods and system we already have in place, while also addressing the specific list of issues laid out in the evidence report."

To address this, ACCME is actively incorporating several recommendations from the AHRQ evidence report. For example, in November 2008 the ACCME convened a conference of leaders from the Mayo Clinic, the Society for Academic Continuing Education, and other organizations involved in medical education. The goal of the meeting was to develop a national research agenda on what is needed most to improve the literature and research efforts evaluating the effectiveness of CME and to come to a consensus on a clear plan for improvement.

ACCME used the conference to evaluate the organizational, professional, and structural barriers to having CME seen as equal in quality and importance to undergraduate and graduate education. It also began to address the need for enhanced CME measurement and evaluation.

In the future, Kopelow speculates, "Continuing medical education will be seen as an important strategic asset to professional education and performance improvement."

The evidence report was prepared for AHRQ by the Evidence-based Practice Center at Johns Hopkins University.

Impact Case Study Identifier: 
AHRQ Product(s): Evidence Report
Topics(s): Continuing Education
Geographic Location: National
Implementer: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education
Date: 05/01/2009


Effectiveness of Continuing Medical Education, Summary. Evidence Report: No. 149. January 2007. AHRQ Publication No. 07-E006: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/tp/cmetp.htm


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