Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Promotional medical education vs. certified CME

It's important to distinguish certified continuing medical education (CME) vs. promotional medical education (sorry, no acronym for this one). The phrase "med ed" is often used in the world of biotech/pharma to refer to both. Hence, it gets to be very confusing when you're talking about medical education.

To add to the confusion, the phrase "continuing medical education" is also thrown around for both certified CME and promotional med ed. This trend is changing among professionals who work in this industry. In fact, we now have CME professionals who are receiving a certification as a "certified CME professional" or CCMEP. Who offers this certification? The National Commission for Certification of CME Professionals, Inc. (NC-CME) began designating qualified individuals last summer.

So what's the difference between CME vs. promotional medical education? This list could be very long, but let me try to keep this succinct:

Credit and certificates:
  • Certified CME must be reviewed and approved by a certifying body (often referred to as a credit provider approved by the ACCME). Such certifying bodies may include medical universities, professional medical societies/associations, private companies/institutions, etc.
  • With certified CME activities, you'll receive a "certificate" for the type of credit that applies to you (such as AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™). You won't be getting any certificates for promotional activities.
  • Certified CME can be used towards medical licensure renewal. For instance, the state of Pennsylvania requires 100 hrs of CME credits each year.
Off-label use:
  • Promotional medical education is regulated by the FDA. Promotional activities generally refer to traditional "dinner meetings" and other types of industry-supported educational events that are not CME-certified. You may have seen some e-detailing programs on the Internet. Don't get these confused with CME-certified activities. You'll learn about new drugs/therapies based on FDA-approved uses. You won't be hearing about any off-label use of drugs.
  • In the world of certified CME, you may learn about off-label use (as long as it's evidence-based). However, CME is never meant to be a form of off-label promotion.
Bias and promotion:
  • Certified CME is designed to be evidence-based and fair-balanced. Whether it's industry supported or not industry supported, CME should not have any bias.
  • Promotional education often tends to also be evidence-based, but it may not always reflect peer-reviewed evidence. In other words, there are many clinical studies that never get published in any type of peer-reviewed journal. Such proprietary data may only reside within a pharmaceutical company and it may get shared at dinner meetings.
I could go on, but since it's getting late now, I'm going to stop here and write more tomorrow. The bottom line is that it's critical to differentiate whether medical education is "certified CME" vs. anything else.


  1. Very nice write-up with definitions! All too often do we hear the wrong terminology used and often dicussions turn into educational interventions. It is also important to note that within the field of CME there are two organizations of importance, the "ACCME" and the "ACME." So what is the difference between the two? the ACCME is the Accreditation organization that accredites qualified organizations, non-profits and for-profits, to certify educational activies that must be in accordance with the ACCMEs established guidelines and criteria, as well as the Standards for Commercial Support. The ACME or Alliance for CME is the membership organization for CME professionals that assists in educating on how to adhere to the established guidelines and promotes an areana for CME professionals to debate topics and present best practices.


  2. I'm a little late to this topic, but there is an excellent online tutorial/quiz on the differences between CME and promotional med ed here:

    As an executive recruiter who works with candidates on both sides of the CME/promo fence (and as a former/current CME professional myself), I frequently refer people to this site as a reference and even to prep for interviews if their individual focus is on one side or the other. The site is also a good resource for debunking some preconceived notions that people in the medcomm world may have about one or the other form of medical communications.

    Christopher Perez, CPC