It’s very instructive to peruse ACCME’s annual report data if you want to understand the trends in pharma support of physician continuing medical education (CME). ACCME stands for Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. It’s an organization that allows other organizations to provide “accredited” CME credits through educational programs. Doctors need a certain amount of CME credits every year to maintain their licenses.

The ACCME data includes information about the number of physician participants in CME programs, the CME hours delivered (1 credit usually means one hour of educational activity as estimated by the CME provider), etc. And it breaks this information down according to the type of CME provider (medical school, for-profit company, medical society, etc.).

I recently perused the ACCME data in preparation for an opinion piece I am writing for a major industry publication. I’ll share my analysis with you here so that you don’t have to do the math and prepare the charts yourself!

Pharma industry financial support of CME
The charts below show what percent of CME income is provided by commercial sponsors — mostly the pharmaceutical industry. Since 2003, when new guidelines went into effect, the growth in industry supported CME has decreased and leveled off in terms of percent of total (click image to enlarge).

Last year, the pharmaceutical industry provided $1.19 billion to sponsor CME programs ($1.44 billion if you include advertising and exhibits at CME events).

Online CME Taking Off!
Meanwhile, the number of physicians participating in online CME “events” has increased dramatically, especially in 2006 (see figure at left).

Approximately one quarter of physician participants in CME activities occur via the Internet. However, only about 5% of the total hours of instruction are delivered via the Internet.

This is bad news for the pharmaceutical industry.


Online CME is delivered mostly via physician Web sites like Medscape. These days, “stickiness” is a more important measure of Website success than number of “visitors.” As far as pharmaceutical marketers are concerned, the more physicians that get CME credits online, the less likely they are to attend live events where collateral marketing can easily occur.

The data seem to bear this out.

In 2003, about 264,000 hours of CME were delivered at regularly scheduled live conferences. In 2006, this dropped to 218,000 (in 2005 it was even lower: 183,000). Compare this to about 5,000 total online hours of CME in 2006!

The bad news — for pharma marketers — is that pharma’s return on online CME investment may be much less than for live events such as symposia at medical conferences.

The good news is that it costs much less to deliver online CME than live CME. It could cost so little that physicians may actually be enticed to pay for it themselves rather than accept pharma’s charity and possible influence over the content! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! If you think that will happen, please see