Recent Pfizer CME grants take non-clinical approach

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Most pharma medical affairs departments use their med ed budgets to plug gaps in physicians' medical knowledge. While important, commercially supported CME activities geared around therapeutic areas have also spurred accusations of bias and brought negative attention on drugmakers.

In a sign of industry's ongoing desire to broaden its CME funding outlook, a couple of recently supported educational programs by Pfizer aim to foster practice-based improvement as they seek to advance the science of CME.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) said it's using a three-year, $2-million educational Pfizer grant to develop an outcomes-based performance improvement effort.

The non-profit is mining databases of 10 facilities, then using the registry data to direct physician educational needs at those member institutions, which include oncology facilities at Boston's Mass General, Philly's Fox Chase and MD Anderson in Texas.

“It's totally different from anything that the large oncology groups have done to this point,” Pfizer's senior director of education, oncology, Brian McGowan, said of the NCCN program. “It's not a push educational meeting, not a webinar of some sort. This is pretty much as practice-based and as performance-driven as any of the educational programs that I've seen in the last two years.”

The NCCN's ultimate goal is to hold a summit on oncology quality improvement and publish lessons learned, actions that would have far-reaching impact. 

Along similar lines, Pfizer recently committed a $300,000 challenge grant to the Joslin Diabetes Center for a CME research project that's designed to analyze different outcomes methods used to measure doctor performance (MM&M June 2011). According to Joslin's executive director of professional education Julie Brown, the center has since been able to raise the second half of the grant from other supporters.

Both the Joslin and NCCN grants are consistent with Pfizer's stated desire to trend away from didactic, update-oriented education toward developing quality-improvement-based activities at the local level. ACCME helped spur this several years ago when it updated its compliance criteria to reward med-ed providers for demonstrating that their activities improve quality.

Both came in as non-solicited requests focused on the science of education, rather than on a clinical area, McGowan said. Such programs “seem to be received the best and to be a more appropriate place for support to go.”

Supporting practice-based improvement and advancing the science of CME, while they help further the core competencies of physicians, are also necessary for real change to occur. “That's just something that's always been at the mission of our group at Pfizer,” McGowan said.

He refuted any notion of a trend away from supporting clinical-related activities—those focused on medical knowledge and patient care, the competencies that most directly relate to clinical practice.

These kinds of programs still account for the vast majority of CME grant applications received by Pfizer. “But a few times a year we receive requests that, while still related to improving medical knowledge, also help support the other parts of being an effective physician,” said McGowan. “When we issue a CGA [or RFP] we have tried to move the needle in the other competencies too.”

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