Medical Education Review 2007: Med Ed Mettle

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When asked what they see as their greatest challenge, 22 of the 60 respondents (37%) to this question cited “grant application procedures”—while this was still the most popular answer, it was significantly down from last year's when 60% stated grant applications were their biggest challenges. Many of this year's respondents referred specifically to pharma companies' transition to online grant processes, while others had grumbles with the long decision times, the lack of direct access to grant reviewers, the varying and inconsistent policies of grantors, difficulties with obtaining multi-supported funding and meeting the demands of procurement departments.

Other issues seem to have risen to prominence in the past year, however: 29% of respondents said they found the changing regulatory environment to be their biggest challenge, with 7% of these specifically referring to firewall compliance. An emerging concern this year is government scrutiny of the industry, with 10% of companies citing this as their greatest challenge. Another 10% mentioned cost pressures on pharma and a lack of funding opportunities as their biggest hurdles, while two firms each cited Phase III clinical trial failures and outcomes measurement as posing key problems in the past year.

But when it came to levels of commercial support, 55% of the 42 respondents to this question said they had seen a rise in funding in the past year, compared to 41% that saw a rise last year. The average increase in funding was 20.2%, among the 16 companies that gave figures (one reported that commercial support had actually doubled). Reasons for this rise in funding tended to focus on either the result of better procedures at the pharmaceutical company (“The strengthening of med ed divisions within pharma” and “Better grant processes defined”) or better offerings on the provider side (“Unique programs,” “New techniques” and “Interactive programming”).

Of the remainder, 24% felt that support levels had stayed the same—“However, you need to work much harder to be awarded,” according to one firm—while 21% said they thought support had dropped off in the past year. Reasons given for the drop included regulatory concerns (“Paranoia and government scrutiny” and more specifically, “The Senate Finance Committee”); funding issues (“Pressures on pharma to reduce spending”) or on the perceived value of CME (“Less content control means investment becomes less meaningful”). In terms of expectations for the year, 89% of 97 responding companies said they expected business volume in 2007 to surpass that of 2006.

More and more medical education is being delivered digitally, according to the survey results. When asked, “What types of programs are growing the fastest and why?” an overwhelming 76% of the 54 respondents to this question said Web or interactive programs, justifying this with a number of different words that mean generally amounted to the same things: “convenience,” “accessibility,” ”available 24/7,” “efficiency,” “low cost,” “wide distribution,” “cost-effective,” “reach,” “on-the-go” and “faster.”

Only five companies thought live meetings were growing the most. One concluded that, “All programs are growing, but slowly.”

A constant source of frustration for CME providers in the past couple of years has been the amount of it has taken for a grant application to move through the system while pharma companies have been revamping their funding operations and procedures. Last year, 82% of 57 respondents to this question reported that the process was taking longer, by anywhere from six weeks to nine months, with just 7% reporting shorter lead times than in the previous year.
Thankfully, for providers there seems to have been at least some relief this year, with one in four stating that grant applications have actually speeded up in the past year. In fact, the process has become around 25%-80% shorter, according to those who gave numbers (or “60 to 90 days quicker”). “They are getting better, but still remain a problem,” concluded one firm.

However, 59% of the 44 respondents to this question are still witnessing longer approval times than they did in 2006, from “two to three weeks” to “nine months or more,” according to those offering figures. “Larger pharmas are taking longer,” offered one firm, and “it depends on which company,” added another. The remaining 16% of respondents noticed no difference in the time taken to process applications.

When asked whether companies are changing the way they structure their funding activities, 25 (83%) of the 30 respondents to this question replied “Yes.” Providers described these changes as “separating grant-making functions from marketing” and maintaining “independence from commercial divisions,” which one described as “reaction to ACCME and OIG and government probes.” Another charged that, “Restructuring has created inconsistency.” Many firms also noted the move to online application procedures, while three providers singled out a trend toward “multi-company sponsorship.”

Overall, of all the 127 medical education companies surveyed, 47 have CME accreditation and 96 claim international capabilities. Contact details, specialty offerings and roster information follows for each company. All information was volunteered as part of the MM&M Medical Education Review 2007.

• Note, this is not a scientific survey.

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