But here’s the problem. With the possible exception of courses during which you learn a new technique [but be careful if they are industry sponsored], most CME activities are useless. A recent meta-analysis of the value of CME showed that physician effectiveness and patient outcomes are not influenced much by CME activities. Another two studies [here & here] showed that the didactic session, the most frequently used CME method, is the least effective at changing physician behavior. Samuel Johnson said it 200 years ago: “Lectures were once useful; but now, when all can read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary.”
There’s also the problem of assessing the knowledge acquired at a didactic session like a lecture or paper presented at a conference. Most society meetings or congresses just mandate that you sign in. You could be sleeping, daydreaming or surfing the Internet on your smart phone while sitting in the audience.
For an interesting take on the worthlessness of medical conferences, read an editorial by John Ioannidis in JAMA [subscription required for full text]. Another interesting [and free] link is to a blog by Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ, who describes his adventures at a cardiology congress in Dubai with typical British humor.
What about so-called “tested” CME as required by many boards for maintenance of certification? The American Board of Surgery requires the completion of 90 hours of CME every three years, and as of July 1, 2012, 60 of those hours must include a “self-assessment activity,” otherwise known as a test.
You can obtain 48 hours of tested CME per year by answering questions found at the back of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. That sounds challenging until you realize that of the four articles that the CME test encompasses, two sets of questions are accompanied by the answers. For the last issue, I was able to answer the questions for the other two topics without having read the papers.
The topics of papers chosen for the CME test [transplantation, hepatectomy, rat surgery, etc] are not what the average general surgeon is interested in. The principles of question construction are not followed. The questions appear to be made up as an afterthought. The exercise satisfies the letter of the law, but that’s about all.
The current state of the art in CME serves to do two things.
1. Placate the general public and regulators, both of whom assume that CME must be beneficial.
2. Make a lot of money for the conference sponsors and the travel and hotel industries.
What do you think of CME?