Online CME course proves that it has lasting impact

Researchers track how much physicians actually learned and retained in the domestic violence course.

By Myrle Croasdale — Posted Dec. 26, 2005

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Most physicians take continuing medical education courses, but whether they take what they've learned and apply it in their practices is usually up for grabs.

CME leaders are trying to solve this puzzle by developing tools to track physician learning, discover whether they take their new knowledge into the office and determine if doctors improve patient outcomes by applying the new skills.

To support such efforts, the Alliance for CME, an international organization of CME providers, recently recognized Medical Directions of Tucson, Ariz., naming the company the winner of the 2005 William Campbell Felch/Wyeth Award for Research in CME.

Medical Directions created an online CME course covering domestic violence, then developed a self-assessment tool to gauge the course's effectiveness. "We found at six months and 12 months out [after taking the CME course] that there were long-term positive changes in almost all measures," said John Harris, MD, Medical Direction's president.

Those results are based on answers from 52 physicians from small-office practices after they took the online course that includes 17 interactive case studies, handouts and forms physicians can download to use in their practices and a database on states' domestic violence reporting requirements.

In a pre- and post-course survey, physicians were asked how much they knew about domestic violence and what their attitude was toward victims. For example, doctors were asked how well prepared they were to deal with a situation when it arose and whether they blamed the victim.

Because of privacy regulations and the emotionally charged nature of domestic violence, the researchers chose not to do patient chart views. Instead, they relied on physicians' self- assessments. To check the assessment tool for accuracy, surveyors visited each physician's office to look for evidence that they were doing the things they claimed they were.

For instance, they checked to see whether doctors had photo equipment to document patients' injuries and whether they had pamphlets containing community resources for domestic violence available.

Details of the research will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and the self-assessment measurement tool will be placed in the public domain on the journal's Web site, Dr. Harris said.

"My hope is that other people will see this is working and learn from it," Dr. Harris said. "I don't think you should require doctors to take CME if you can't show that the program will do any good."

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