Implementing practice-based needs assessments in CME events

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Published: 17 Dec 2014
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Prof MJMH (Kiki) Lombarts - Academisch Medisch Centrum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Prof Lombarts speaks to ecancertv at the 2014 European CME Forum about the importance of completing needs assessments before conducting Continuing Medical Education (CME) events.

She discusses the need for practice-based needs assessments when designing CME events, and describes the effectiveness of the current format.

How important is it to assess educational needs?

I think it’s key to have a needs assessment before you start designing and organising any CME event. We know from the research that CME is effective in changing physician performance and patient outcomes and obviously more indirectly patient outcomes and more directly physician performance. But we also know that CME is most effective if it’s based on a needs assessment, so really having an idea of what the gap is between what you want to learn and where you are, so what the current state is and what the desired state is. That gap really defines your needs so it’s key to have a needs assessment in order for the CME event to be successful.

So that’s what we know from the literature and the distinction that we sometimes make is between the educational needs assessment for a collective group, linking that to, for example, the collective needs or perceived needs of a target audience and then, on the other side, the individual learning needs. As a professional what do I want to learn, what do I need to learn in terms of knowledge or attitudes or skills when I go attend or subscribe to a meeting.

What are the key elements for assessing educational needs?

It’s all about identifying or diagnosing the gap, the gap from where you are and where you want to be. What was clear in this workshop this morning is that the overall opinion is that the future of needs assessment really is it should be practice based. So what do you encounter in your own practices in delivering care? That makes it a very contextual activity, so context is key. So it’s not about just competence and what you can do but it is about what you actually do. So it’s about performance and for that we really need to assess our needs based on the practices and the circumstances under which we work. So I think that was one of the main outcomes of this session, that there was a plea for practice based needs assessment.

How important is it to have a robust assessment of educational needs and what effect this can have?

What we saw in the meeting is that some people were honest enough to say, “I don’t really do a needs assessment.” Like I said, the example that I gave myself, sometimes you just go to a meeting just because you like to network or you have another agenda, not actually attending the meeting for just the content or because you want to learn something. There also were some people who were very… they didn’t want to be arrogant but they said, “We really are very robust in assessing the needs before organising anything.” And there are always a group in between, so we do it but we’re not as robust as we could be. I think that’s what a lot of people in practice many times do. You sit down, you have some questions or some needs expressed in whatever encounter you had and then you start designing a training or a course or whatever.

I think your question is relevant because what we know if you want to be at a CME again, a CME event or activity or course or training or whatever it is, to be effective, you have to know what the exact needs are. So that underlines again the importance of the needs assessment. If you are doing it in a less robust way then of course the chance is that you’re going to be offering something that doesn’t really answer the needs or fulfils the needs of the professionals that are attending. So I guess that’s why it’s so important to do it.

How effective has this year’s ECME meeting been?

It was great to see at the end of the session there were a variety of ideas in terms of when do you consider a CME event to be effective. There was no consensus; some people say if the participation numbers are great then my CME event is effective and others say, no, you really have to see a change in individual patient health outcomes or even bigger. So there is still a lot to discuss in terms of the effectiveness of CME events and also in relation to a needs assessment.

The other great thing that turned out at the end of the meeting is that all the other workshops that are going to be presented over the next two days really will fulfil needs. If you look at the individual needs assessment you may say that we just did it with the audience.