The drug industry’s backing of certified CME fell for a third straight year, as registration fees and other income surged, just-released data from ACCME show. Industry grants accounted for 37% of total income in 2010, down from a high of 50% in 2006.

While pharma still contributed quite a bit—$830.8 million, or 3% less than 2009—the funding picture continued to even out. More physicians paid their way or had a parent organization pick up the tab for attendance. Revenue from sources such as these grew 8.5% to $1.1 billion.

As industry dialed back CME spend, due to perceptions of bias as well as pharma’s overall budget reforms, publishing/education companies bore the brunt, losing $79 million of that funding.

Despite the 25% drop in commercial dollars, “There is still a role for medical education and communications companies to help implement a lot of these programs because of their ability to staff and deliver creative programming that is well researched,” said Tom Sullivan, president and founder of med-ed firm Rockpointe.

Just as telling is where industry channeled CME funding: schools got 9% more ($232.6 million), hospitals and health systems an extra 12% ($43.8 million).

Revenue from advertising and exhibit halls at medical meetings—another big revenue source, especially for medical societies—decreased 2% to $276.7 million.

The more competitive funding environment has thinned out the ranks of education providers. As of last year’s count, there were 694 ACCME-accredited entities, down from 707 in 2009.

In turn, there were fewer courses, grand rounds and online classes to go around—about 13,500 fewer, according to the report. That translates to 29,000 less hours of instruction in the marketplace.

About 650,000 more doctors registered for these events, an increase of 6.1%. Doing the math, average physician headcount per event expanded 24% to about 140. These attendees were joined by many more non-physicians—about a million more than the previous year.

CME providers reported a slight increase in expenses, to $1.8 billion, out of total income of about $2.2 billion. That’s likely a reflection of the higher cost of maintaining accreditation nowadays.