Taking the Pulse on eCME – What’s Next for Continued Medical Education

Matt Titus, VP & Chief Commercial Officer at epocrates

Over the past two years, we’ve witnessed the massive digital disruption in healthcare that was spurred by the pandemic. The most frequent example tends to be in the rapid adoption of technology like telemedicine, but this disruption has touched even the most seemingly small pieces of the healthcare ecosystem and will have long lasting consequences. 

Just consider the conferences that once used to draw large crowds of physicians seeking to attain their continuing medical education (CME) requirements. Physicians haven’t just moved online for patient care, but for these activities as well – and things will never be the same.

In fact, new survey data from Clarivate* sheds light on how physicians are expected to learn the latest clinical developments and interact with eCME programs and in-person events in a post-pandemic future (all data points in this article are attributed to the Clarivate report “Taking the Pulse U.S. 2021: Optimize Physician Engagement).

The findings specifically point to three key takeaways and what this means for the medical community moving forward. 

Digital learning is more popular than ever

In today’s environment, physicians and clinical staff members are experiencing severe burnout, administrative burden, and high patient volumes among both in-person and telehealth appointments. When CME requirements are placed on top of these priorities, physicians are increasingly turning to eCME to receive the credits needed to maintain their license. Over the last three years, there’s been a steady uptick in eCME utilization, with more than three times as many hours of medical education being received through eCME than in-person. As a result, eCME has become one of the digital channels with the highest weekly reaches (34%) among physicians.

The core reason eCME has emerged as a preferred method for continued medical education is because of its inherent flexibility, as described by the majority of physicians (63%). It grants physicians the ability to work CME credits into their busy schedule more easily in ways that work for them – whether it’s from their mobile device in between patient appointments or on their laptops after hours. However, flexibility isn’t the only benefit that physicians find valuable.

eCME can also lower barriers to relevant clinical information by meeting physicians where they are. It provides a digital learning environment that grants physicians faster and more flexible access to medical education. Additionally, it provides greater value with tailored content that’s more relevant to a physician’s personal practice area. That is one of the true advancements that eCME is driving. In the past, during in-person medical education events, physicians might have attended sessions that weren’t as relevant to their particular practice areas.

Physicians consider eCME as the most trusted source of information
Over the past few years, eCME has also solidified a position as the most trusted source of clinical information and medical education for nearly three-in-four physicians (73%). A source of trusted clinical information has become even more essential to helping curb physician information overload as clinical guidelines continue to evolve. 

While the abundance of data and clinical information available to physicians is crucial to providing the best care possible, it can oftentimes be more overwhelming than helpful. Physicians simply don’t have enough time in the day to stay abreast of the latest clinical information. To combat this, it’s important to ensure that CME content is digitally accessible, concise, and up-to-date for physicians.  

The future is a mix between in-person and digital medical education 

While digital learning is quickly becoming a preferred method for CME, there is still value in in-person conferences and learning events. Diving into the data, 70% of physicians reported that they are comfortable with virtual conferences since the pandemic made virtual events a mainstay. Additionally, the ability to listen to conference sessions on their own time makes these events even more appealing, with 76% of physicians citing the flexibility as valuable. However, physicians still find value in in-person events (68%) because there are better opportunities for engagement and networking with peers.

Given the normalization of virtual events spurred by the pandemic coupled with an emerging post-pandemic environment, we can expect hybrid-style learning events to best fit the needs of physicians, so long as they provide relevant information and find ways to engage attending physicians. This can include creating more interactive components for virtual events such as live surveys, Q&A style-sessions, and breakout groups. Additionally, eCME plays a strong role in accommodating hybrid-style events by providing convenient, flexible, and ongoing access to learning materials.

The data affirms that eCME has a positive impact on U.S. physicians. That there is no one-size-fits-all approach to continued medical education. The key to providing promising and impactful medical education will stem from the ability to meet physicians where they are, in ways that work for them, with information that’s most relevant to their personal practice areas. 

About Matt Titus

Matt Titus is the VP & Chief Commercial Officer at epocrates an athenahealth, Inc. company that delivers digital clinical decision support to prescribers. Titus joined epocrates from Real Chemistry, a global health innovation company, where he served as EVP, sales & customer experience and led commercial teams for the Health Technology Products & Solutions and Commercial Consulting offerings, including PaaS, SaaS, and IaaS solutions for pharmaceutical and life science companies. Prior to that role, he served as the VP of business development — Americas for Kantar Profiles (Health), where he was head of sales for the Americas and led global commercial and revenue growth strategy, and also worked as a managing director at SERMO.