Support from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries comprised 28% of total continuing medical education (CME) funding in 2017, flat vs. the prior year. But in dollar terms, industry investment rose 5% to $739 million last year, the fourth consecutive yearly increase, according to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education 2017 annual report.

That commercial funding went to 10% of CME activities, with the rest receiving backing by other means, per the report.  

Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, professor of pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown University and director of PharmedOut, noted that the increase is significant.

“CME is one of the most important marketing tools pharmaceutical companies have, especially as commercial emphasis on salesforces decreases,” said Fugh-Berman. “It remains true that commercial support is underreported because advertising, exhibits, and in-kind support is not counted. Pharma-free CME remains a rarity.”

WentzMiller Global Service principal Lewis Miller disagreed, contending that the amount of commercial support is much less than in 2007 when it totaled $1.2 billion. By 2013, it had been slashed nearly in half, to $659 million, before rebounding from 2014-2017 Miller added that commercial support is primarily invested in medical education companies that work in collaboration with a medical specialty society or a medical school.

Overall investment in CME programs increased 6% to $2.7 billion in 2017, and income stemmed from a variety of sources. Participant registration fees ($1.4 billion) comprised the majority of total income (54%), while advertising and exhibits accounted for 16%. Government grants and private donations each accounted for 1% of total income.

Accredited providers reported increased numbers for CME activities, hours of instruction, and physician or other learner interactions. The number of med-ed providers, however, continued to decrease, from 1,833 in 2016 to 1,794 in 2017, due to consolidation.

In 2017, accredited providers offered 162,965 educational activities, up 3% from 2016, resulting in almost 1.2 million hours of instruction, up 4.3% from 2016.

More than 470,000 hours of instruction came from courses, an increase from 452,000 hours in 2016. However, there was a 1% decrease in the number of courses, from 77,000 in 2016 to 76,006 in 2017.

Miller said the consolidation of courses that are offered could improve CME.

“We could save a lot of money and improve the quality of CME if more often providers did joint courses in areas like cardiovascular disease and diabetes so that we weren’t spending so much money repeating courses,” said Miller.

Nearly 44,000 activities were provided via enduring materials on the internet in 2017, up 9.2% from 2016. Live online programs continued to increase, with 4,425 activities and 10,740 hours of instruction offered, a 28% increase year-over-year.

Learning opportunities for HCPs continue to expand into new formats. For instance, med-ed provider Rockpointe recently introduced a three-part series, covering patient-informed consent for clinical research, on Amazon’s Alexa voice technology platform.