3 Trends Driving The Growing Shift To Digital CME

Diane Bartoli

By Diane Bartoli, general manager, epocrates

Over the past decade, there’s been a rapid explosion of innovative technology that has allowed the industry to reimagine our healthcare system and touched nearly every aspect of the ecosystem. This includes continuing medical education (CME)—an often-overlooked side of healthcare that’s always top-of-mind for clinicians as they seek to complete a certain number of credits to maintain their licensure.

Clinicians increasingly turn to third-party digital channels for medical information, and in parallel there is an increasing demand for digital CME as clinicians seek alternatives to in-person medical conferences. This shift is largely being driven by three trends that suggest the digital CME experience will continue to gain popularity and be an area ripe for innovation well into the future.

Providers have never been busier than they are today

Clinicians are facing more time pressures than they ever have before due to a growing number of administrative burdens, overwhelming staffing shortages, the prevalence of chronic diseases, and now, an unpredictable wave of patients as COVID-19 transmissions surge. As a result, there’s even less time than there ever has been before available for clinicians to stay updated on the latest medical developments.

By turning to digital learning options to complete CME requirements, clinicians can operate around their demanding schedules without having to carve out several days to attend in-person events (where only several of the sessions might be relevant). Instead, digital CME provides clinicians with the ability to select a specific course that’s most relevant to their individual practices or specialties, online or through the mobile app that’s always in their pocket.

User experience has become a key focus for digital CME offerings, which has largely been inspired by the convenience we have come to expect as consumers. Digital CME offers the ability to tailor activities to the individual user, and can offer recommendations and relevant activities in a similar way to Netflix or Amazon. Doing so is helping make these vast education materials easily available and at the fingertips of busy clinicians.

Clinicians are taking control of when, and how, they consume content

While new digital and ‘snackable’ CME formats make it possible for clinicians to complete CME credits even between patients, our own research indicates that the majority now prefer to catch up on medical information in the comfort of their own homes—signaling that clinicians still prefer to engage with CME away from their day-to-day work. That said, the variety of formats available now – video, audio, text, and case studies – from shorter ‘snackable’ 15-minute activities that can be accessed in the moment to in-depth longer form activities – allow clinicians more freedom in how they complete their credits.

By digging into user trends, we can see exactly how that plays out. We’ve found that nearly 20 percent of clinician engagement takes place on Tuesdays, the most popular day for clinicians to access CME content, closely followed by Saturday. During the weekdays, most activity occurs around the lunch hour or late in the night, with those accessing CME activities on Wednesdays at noon being the most likely to complete them. One of our most surprising discoveries was that the second most popular time to complete CME activities was on Mondays at 4:00 in the morning. Additionally, close to 40 percent of all users engage with the shorter 15-minute activities, and particularly the short-form video-based learning.

The ability for clinicians to select when they want to access content, in which format, and at which length simply can’t be replicated by in-person conferences.

The pandemic accelerated a trend already in the making

Traditionally, clinicians have had to attend in-person medical events and conferences to attain CME. While these in-person events were upended during the pandemic, the need to complete CME requirements remained and left many searching for alternative ways to receive these credits.

This caused a similar shift that we witnessed with telehealth during the same time – while this trend was already in the making, the pandemic simply accelerated the transition to digital CME when more traditional, in-person options weren’t possible. While we expect many clinicians  may eventually return to attending conferences, more than half of physicians have already indicated that they’re likely to participate in a virtual medical conference after the pandemic.

This is just one of many signals that the industry’s shift to digital CME is here to stay permanently following a universal shift to provide content that better aligns with the needs of clinicians and a consumer-like expectation around the user experience.

A look to the future of CME

There’s no longer any doubt that the healthcare industry has a growing need to provide a better, more convenient way for clinicians to stay abreast of the latest medical developments. By listening to the clinicians as they engage in CME content, we can better build a state-of-the-art CME experience—one that’s highly personalized to the individual user, provides content in one place, and is tailored to a clinician’s specialty, practice, and their unique needs. Doing so won’t only transform the user experience but, ultimately, enhance practices and help ensure that clinicians can deliver the highest quality of care.

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