To ensure we are delivering the highest-quality education to our customers—physicians and other healthcare professionals—continuing medical education professionals must focus on our own continuing professional development. Internal budget scrutiny and less time available to travel can make it challenging to demonstrate the return on investment for attending multiple CPD conferences each year. CME professionals are often tasked with providing a detailed funding request internally—a process that mirrors our proposals for CME grants. Providing a linkage between the specific education we will receive, the immediate benefit to our respective organizations, and rationale for why the educational format (live vs. self-mediated) is optimal for achieving the stated objectives is important. Therefore, it's critical for each CPD conference to continue:
- Highlighting the value proposition for attendance in the agenda
- Differentiating the content from that of competitive meetings
- Offering clear and achievable objectives (e.g., better grant-writing strategies, can't-miss outcomes measurement tips, or tools that help streamline CME office workflow)
- Featuring opportunities to meet one-on-one with key stakeholders
- Providing a platform for attendees to showcase their “best-of-the-best" activities and/or results
Location, Location, Location
With fewer days to spend away from the office, conference organizers must take into account where the majority of the attendees will travel from (e.g., demographic trend data). Traveling to the West Coast is cost- and time-prohibitive for those on the East Coast. On the other hand, airline industry consolidations have expanded the number of “hub" airports, making it less expensive to fly into certain cities. The most attractive cities for CME CPD meetings are those that are least expensive and have the most flights available.
Time of year also matters. It might be easier for CME professionals to dovetail a CPD conference with a scheduled family summer holiday than attend a meeting in the fall when kids return to school and work commitments increase. Winter travel can also be difficult, particularly for CME professionals who live in regions with heavy snowfall or frequent inclement weather.
The conference facilities factor into decision-making. Larger hotels (vs. convention centers) with restaurants on site provide additional places for post-session networking and save the cost of transportation for attendees. Airport hotels with dedicated conference space offer added convenience. Attendees are also less likely to skip the last sessions of the day to catch flights home.
To continue refining live CPD meetings, conference organizers might:
- Use attendee demographics to determine optimal meeting locations
- Leverage pre- and post-meeting surveys and evaluations to gather attendee preferences (time of year, preferred duration, and transportation insights)
- Streamline the number of meetings based on attendance trends
Using Technology to Maximize Content and Learner Engagement
CME activities are rapidly transitioning from didactic presentations to flipped-classroom models and case-based learning. This is a logical approach since physicians and HCPs work in a “case-based" environment daily and traditional educational models are being revamped. CPD conferences for CME professionals are following suit, which is encouraging. While technology in the form of audience response systems has made its way into these meetings, there are more opportunities, including:
- Live-streaming of keynote addresses and selected workshops
- Selected on-demand conference sessions with downloadable transcribed audience Q&A/FAQs
- Dedicated “live" ask-the-expert sessions where CME professionals could meet with (in person at each conference) or log in (online) to discuss pressing questions with presenters
- “Interactive" agendas where learners can access supplemental conference-related content like award-winning posters, practice pearls, exhibitor data, and references
Conference organizers often receive outstanding abstracts, but lack time in the agenda to cover the content in a formal workshop or presentation. Offering multiple educational formats can provide opportunities to expand conference agendas and include this content, making it available on demand, as a value-added service. To truly make this approach work to the benefit of the conference organizers, faculty/presenters, and learners, the content must be carefully matched to the educational formats. It's also essential that all stakeholders communicate regularly to evaluate the effectiveness of new formats and make adjustments as needed.
Sequential Learning and Opportunities for Collaboration
Over the past decade, CPD conferences for CME professionals have evolved substantially. ARS technology is used in every keynote session (and some breakouts as well). Pre-conference needs assessment surveys are commonplace. Presentation slides are e-mailed to attendees post-meeting to help sustain learning over time. Content has morphed from theoretical to practical, addressing day-to-day challenges. Online webinars, publications, and other self-directed learning opportunities help CME professionals sustain learning over time via cost-effective formats. As the CME industry continues to weather the economic challenges, let's consider how we can streamline our live CPD opportunities through collaboration, technology, and big data (surveys, outcomes, evaluations, and audience demographic trends). This may even result in collaboration between competing conference organizers. Wouldn't that be novel?