Online CME: Fast, convenient, and ready for prime time

November 17, 2006

There's no longer any excuse not to get your CME. By going online, you can earn credits at your convenience, anywhere, for free.

Salvatore S. Volpe, a med-peds specialist in Staten Island, NY, waiting for his son to finish up at the eighth-grade band rehearsal, decided it was time to get a little CME. Using the Epocrates e-prescribing program on his PDA, he read a couple of monographs he'd previously downloaded from the company's website and then answered some questions about them.

"It's so damn easy," says Volpe, who figures that he gets about half of his CME credits online, and three-quarters of that from Epocrates.

Another fan of online CME is FP Sarah Towne, assistant dean of clinical education at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, CA. "It's better than sliced bread," she says. "It's so much easier to do part of my CME this way than to have to go somewhere."

Another family physician, Debra J. Heck of Muncie, IN, says she got hooked on online CME looking up the latest studies on Medscape, the leading CME provider on the web. "I finally realized that since I was reading the articles anyway, I might as well get credit for it-especially since it's free!"

Because of online CME's convenience, savings, and breadth of content-as well as the spread of high-speed Internet access-a majority of physicians are now getting at least some of their CME on the web. But that doesn't mean they've stopped attending conferences and hospital grand rounds. Even though physician participation in online CME programs has almost tripled since 2002, it still makes up only 18 percent of all their continuing education credits.

One expert forecasts that web-based educational activities will continue to expand rapidly, but will plateau at about 30 percent of total CME. "People like to get together and see each other face to face and see live speakers," says Berkeley, CA, psychiatrist Bernard M. Sklar, who has tracked online CME for several years and maintains a list of CME sites ( http://www.cmelist.com/list.htm).

Nevertheless, online CME is becoming an increasingly popular way for physicians to keep up with the literature and get credits in their spare time. What's happening in this area, what should you watch out for, and how much will online CME cost you? Read on to find out.

Diverse CME sites offer a wide variety of options

When Cyberounds was started in 1996, it was the only website that offered online CME, according to founder and preventive-medicine specialist Harry A. Levy. Now there are about 300 sites offering more than 26,000 hours of online CME, says Sklar, and that doesn't include the intranets that many hospitals use to provide CME to their staffs.

CME websites present a wide variety of content in different formats, ranging from text, slides, and pictures to audio and video programs, with or without accompanying text. Delivery methods are equally diverse: There are live webcasts, archived webcasts, and programs designed to be heard or viewed on PDAs, smartphones, and iPods. This variety allows physicians to choose the type of format and delivery that best suits their needs.

Some sites specialize in niches. Cyberounds, for example, combines text-only "conferences" that present expert views of particular topics with multimedia games that test doctors' knowledge as they compete in virtual golf, bowling, and auto racing. MedPage Today provides only breaking medical news, and the Ohio State University Medical Center site offers just live and archived webcasts.