Drug makers trimmed continuing medical education (CME) grant-giving by about 10% in 2012, the fifth consecutive annual decrease, according to ACCME data released today. Commercial support totaled $662 million, down from $736 million.

The decline nearly mirrored the prior year’s 11% drug industry cutback, but for one important difference: While pharma has been slicing budgets for certified education for physicians since 2008, for the first time other sources of income filled the breach.

Revenues from registration fees and the like surged nearly 15%, last year’s data show, pushing total income up by 5% to $2.3 billion. That bettered the 1% decrease in total income reported by ACCME-accredited providers the prior year, suggesting they are figuring out a way to survive despite steep pharma funding cuts. 

In 2012, income from these non-pharma sources made up 58% of total income for CME providers, up from 53% in 2011. This income is defined by ACCME as participant registration fees and allocations from a CME provider’s parent organization or other internal departments.

Also helping to fill the void were non-physicians participants. Nurses, PAs, residents, and other health professionals boosted CME attendance by 7%, vs. a 1% increase the year prior, outshining MDs and DOs, whose participation rose by 6%. Hours of instruction and activities increased by 3% and 4%, respectively.

Data continued to show an evening of the CME funding picture. Commercial support accounted for 28% of total reported income, down from 33% the prior year and 50% in 2006. Companies did maintain their support for exhibit halls, though. Income from advertising and exhibits, which companies use to show off their wares to doctors, rose by 7% vs. 2011 and accounted for 14% of total reported income, up from 13% the year before. 

At the activity level, the majority of CME activities (82%) produced by ACCME-accredited providers did not receive commercial support in 2012. These accounted for 81% of physician participants, and 78% of non-physician participants, ACCME said. Eighteen percent of CME activities did receive commercial support, bringing in approximately 19% of physician participants, and 22% of non-physician participants.

Industry’s grant-giving tally last year is a bit lower as it excludes in-kind support, such as when a company loans a provider a device to use for teaching purposes. The ACCME decided in 2011 not to require them to quantify the dollar value of this kind of commercial support any more.

(Another change that began with the 2011 report: Income from organizations sanctioned by state and territory medical society accreditors was added. These providers, which number 1,319, received another $12.5 million in commercial support for CME in 2012, less in-kind support, down 22% vs. 2011).