An introduction to navigating the ins and outs of Continuing Medical Education (CME). Who needs CME? Why is CME important? When do you need CME? What are my state CME requirements? How do I spend my CME stipend? and more, from BoardVitals.
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What is CME?
Continuing Medical Education (CME) is described by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)1 as “educational activities which serve to maintain, develop, or increase the knowledge, skills, professional performance and relationships that physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals uses to provide services for patients, the public, or the profession.” If educational activities have been accredited by the ACCME, they are typically referred to as CME. Most states require courses to be accredited for them to count towards meeting a medical professional’s state continuing education requirements.
What is the purpose of CME?
CME activities ensure that physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals stay up to date with the latest advancements in their respective specialty/field and to improve overall patient satisfaction and outcomes. With the medical field constantly evolving, it is essential that healthcare practitioners keep their certification current in order to deliver the best possible patient care.
Above and beyond developing skills and improving patient care, CME is required to maintain most state licenses and board certifications. Failure to complete the state’s CME requirements will make an individual ineligible to practice medicine in their state.
Completing CME and maintaining board certification increases one’s reputation amongst insurers, regulators, hospitals, physicians, advanced practice healthcare professionals and patients. Maintaining your license indicates that you are dedicated to developing your clinical knowledge and improving your overall performance as a healthcare practitioner.
Holding this certification and increased reputation often leads to incentive programs and entrance into professional organizations, which offer the opportunity to advance your career, earn increased payments, receive higher reimbursement rates and lower malpractice premiums.
How many CME credits do you have to earn?
State licensing boards each have their own CME requirements physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals must meet in order to continue practicing medicine in their state. Requirements vary from no CME up to having to earn 100 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM each year. CME credit earning intervals can also vary by state.
Some states require CME on specific topics, often when there is a prevalent public health issue in that state. For example, due to the ongoing opioid epidemic, several state medical boards have mandated medical professionals to complete CME activities in pain management and opioid prescribing as part of their state requirements.
In addition to state requirements, each medical board has its own unique requirements which its members need to satisfy in order to maintain their specialty certification(s). For example, ABIM certified physicians have to earn a differing number of CME credits as compared to ABPN certified psychiatrists to maintain their certification.
CME requirements for physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners all have various differences. For physicians, CME requirements can vary depending upon individual MD or DO designations. Although most states have the same requirements for both, some state requirements vary to include a specific number of CME credits and additional combinations of activities and varying forms of CME depending on an individual's category.
With states having differing requirements for physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals, a common thread among many is the requirement to earn specific numbers of AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM. These credits certify that an individual has met the following:
Participation in an educational activity
Completing all requirements for each activity
- Expectation to “serve to maintain, develop, or increase the knowledge, skills, and professional performance and relationships that a physician uses to provide services for patients, the public or the profession”2
What are the different types of CME activities available?
There are almost 1,900 different accredited providers offering more than 148,000 CME activities according to ACCME. These activities come in various forms, including:
- Enduring Materials (Webinars, Question Banks, DvDs, CD Roms)
- Live CME Activities (Courses & Conferences)
- Online CME Courses
- Regularly Scheduled Series (Grand Rounds, Tumor Boards, Morality Conferences, etc.)
- Test Item Writing
- Internet Searching and Learning
One of the top options for earning CME credits amongst physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals is enduring materials. The ACCME describes these as “a printed, recorded, or computer-presented activity that may be used over time at various locations and which, in itself, constitutes a planned activity. In an enduring material, the provider creates the content.”
Within the enduring material category, the most popular options are delivered online. 47% of physicians prefer to earn their CME credits via online activities according to the 2018 MMS Annual CME Physicians Preferences Survey3. Online CME activities are popular for many reasons including convenience, low cost, and promotional benefits.
Live CME activities are also a popular option amongst physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals looking to earn credits. 30% of physicians prefer to earn their CME credits by attending live CME events either in their region or a destination/resort setting according to the 2018 MMS Annual CME Physicians Preferences Survey.
Live CME activities are offered in the form of live conferences, courses, workshops, seminars, etc. that physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals are able to attend and fulfill their CME requirements. Live events can last up to several days and are typically planned far in advance. Comprehensively designed to cover important topics within a specific specialty, live CME activities allow physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals to advance their knowledge and skills in specific areas. These programs often feature renowned speakers within a specialty and have both generalized and specialty specific lectures that are paired with personalized optional sessions allowing for more in-depth review of topics.
On top of the lectures and in-depth reviews, a major perk of the live CME events is they are often held in popular vacation destinations such as Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Chicago. By attending live events in these highly sought-after destinations, physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals are able to use their CME allowance to go on a vacation and earn CME credits at the same time. Although live events are extremely popular there are a few drawbacks to consider.
Regularly Scheduled Series
Regularly Scheduled Series (RSS) are courses that feature multiple sessions and occur on an ongoing basis. These activities can occur weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc. Examples of these activities include grand rounds, tumor boards, and morbidity and mortality conferences.
How to select the right CME activity?
When selecting CME activities that will help meet an individual's requirements there are many factors to consider, including topics, number of credits offered, online convenience, and more. The illustration below illustrates the factors physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals consider before selecting a CME course:
*Data from 2018 MMS Annual CME Physicians Preferences Survey3
- 35% Topic/Speakers
- 32% AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM
- 14% Online Convenience (available anywhere, anytime)
- 11% Location
- 5% Price
- 3% Resort Type Destination (ski/tennis/golf/beach resort or other activities)
Topics are by far the most important factor in selecting a CME course. Most states and boards require individuals to earn credits in CME activities in their primary field of practice. The ACCME1 states, “When physicians participate in continuing education activities that are not directly related to their professional work, these do not fall within the ACCME definition of CME content.” Credits earned on unrelated topics will most likely not count towards annual CME requirements.
CME bridges the knowledge gap between an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Because most CME courses can be quite broad in covered topics, individuals should make sure selected courses focus on topics that require personal improvement.
AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM
AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM are the most common CME credit types that fulfill requirements for most states. It is recommended that physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals search for courses offering enough credits to meet their individual requirements, alleviating the need for additional activities. Individuals often select online CME courses because the majority offer enough AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM to satisfy their annual CME requirements.
Convenience is one of the major driving factors physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals use when selecting CME activities due to their hectic schedules. Most prefer online CME courses with computer, tablet, or smartphone accessibility. Device flexibility allows individuals the convenience of earning CME credits from their office, practice, home, or even on the go.
Remote accessibility is the main reason physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals prefer online CME activities over live activities. With little time to travel out of state to complete their CME requirements, online activities offer individuals the ability to complete CME credits at their own pace and schedule.
CME Promotions and Gift Cards
Another major deciding factor when choosing CME activity is the availability of promotional offers allowing CME stipends to be stretched further. Many hospitals and organizations provide physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals with CME allowances to assist in completing annual CME activities. By utilizing CME budgets on activities that come with promotional gift cards, individuals can nearly double their available budget to spend on additional education material.
Why are Promotions and Gift Cards Offered?
CME providers believe in their education platforms and the benefits they provide physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals. With carefully selected promotional incentives, individuals can take advantage of offers designed specifically to promote education. The incentives not only illustrate that CME providers stand behind their products, but additionally they are dedicated to assisting customers in stretching their stipend to the fullest.
How to use promotional incentives and gift cards?
Depending upon the selected CME provider, promotional incentives for physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals vary from electronic devices to complimentary gift cards.
Promotional electronic devices such as watches, phones, tablets and laptops are meant for use with a provider's CME platform. By offering these types of promotions, providers are enabling and encouraging physicians and advanced practice healthcare professionals to study and earn CME on-the-go and at their convenience.
Complimentary gift cards are offered as a way to advance continuing medical education even more in a way that best suits each physician’s and advanced practice healthcare professional’s individual needs. Whether it is upgrading to a newer model laptop, purchasing a new mobile device, or ordering updated medical books and teaching aids, this promotion allows individuals to purchase exactly what they would benefit from most.
Why BoardVitals CME?
Available in 35 different medical specialties, BoardVitals CME allows clinicians to earn up to 100 CME and MOC credits online by reviewing thousands of case-style questions targeted to MOC exam blueprints. Answer questions with at least 70% or 75% accuracy (the required percentage is course-specific) to earn credit. You can even access BoardVitals CME 24/7 on a desktop or with the BoardVitals Medical Exam Prep Mobile App and correct your answers as you go. To redeem credits earned on the Mobile App, simply log into your BoardVitals account on your desktop to download your certificate.
With BoardVitals CME Pro Plus, you can “Choose Your Own Price” by customizing your CME plan according to your budget to help you make the most of your CME allowance. Simply enter your CME stipend, and the website will automatically calculate your subscription length and complimentary gift card amount.
How does BoardVitals CME Pro Plus top the competition? Check out our comparison of the top CME gift card offers.
Is BoardVitals CME content certified, and how are my hours accredited?
BoardVitals has been reviewed by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME®) and awarded Initial Accreditation for 4 years as a provider of continuing medical education (CME) for physicians. Accreditation in the ACCME System seeks to assure the medical community and the public that BoardVitals delivers education that is relevant to clinicians’ needs, evidence-based, evaluated for its effectiveness, and independent of commercial influence. Use BoardVitals CME Coach to find the exact number of CME credits required to maintain board certification by state.
Completed AMA credits are submitted to the ACCME for documentation. It will be important to keep the email with your certificate in case you need to provide justification of your hours.
MOC Credit: Courses that are eligible for MOC with ABIM, ABPath, and ABP will be submitted to PARS, the national data repository, within 45 days of completion. Preventive Medicine MOC credit hours will be submitted to the ABPM board within 60 days of completion.
All other CME credits (non-MOC) must be self reported. Please consult each specific board’s website for reporting instructions.
Why do I have to pay for BoardVitals CME credit?
We have a separate package that gives you the option to access the questions with or without CME credits. The fee is the difference between the cost of those packages. Because our CME credits have to be reviewed and approved by the ACCME (and, in most cases, the individual boards), and the certificates are provided in partnership with outside medical institutions, there is a fee per person for the certificate and CME redemption.
Why does BoardVitals need my board ID number for CME/MOC credit?
We comply with the latest electronic submission guidelines, which requires a Board Identifier and accurate date of birth. Note that if the information doesn’t match, we will not be able to submit your certificates.
If I archive my BoardVitals exams or if my subscription expires, what happens to the CME credits I’ve earned?
Credits you have earned will remain in your account until you redeem them. If you archive your exams, your questions will reset, but credits that you earned and have not yet redeemed will still be available. (Note: you cannot earn credits twice for questions already completed.)
If your subscription expires, any credits already earned will be available for redemption. However, you will not be able to complete additional questions or earn additional credits without reactivating your subscription.
How do I earn CME credit with BoardVitals?
- After logging into BoardVitals, you’ll see your purchased test bank listed under the “Dashboard” tab. To begin earning CME credits, just start answering questions by clicking the “Go” button.
- Choose which questions you’d like to cover by selecting the checkbox next to each specialty category. Then, choose the number of questions you’d like to take and hit the “Create Exam” button. You’re now ready to begin answering questions and earning your CME credits.
- As you answer questions, your CME hours will automatically accrue. Answer every question in your question bank to earn all available CME hours for your specialty. Once you have earned the maximum number of CME hours available, you cannot earn any more CME hours from that question bank.
What percentage accuracy is needed to qualify for BoardVitals CME hours?
The percentage accuracy required varies by question bank. Most specialties require a 70% accuracy rate in order for them to qualify for CME hours. Some, such as Preventive Medicine and Surgery MOC, require an accuracy rate of 75%. Please refer to the course description to ensure you are meeting the standard for your specialty.
Questions can be corrected as you go through the test bank in order to achieve your specialty's accuracy requirements.
How are my BoardVitals CME/MOC credits calculated and submitted?
All CME/MOC credits earned must be submitted through the desktop site; mobile app submissions are not currently available. CME credits are accumulated by the number of unique questions you answer. This number is determined by the overall number of questions within the question bank, but on average it takes about 20 - 25 questions to earn 1 CME hour/1 MOC point.
Credits are calculated as questions are answered and you receive a passing percentage. The required percentage to pass is determined by each individual board. Please refer to the course description.
Want to learn more about CME and MOC requirements? Download a Free eBook, Navigating Continuing Medical Education: A Guide to CME/MOC Requirements.
I've used BoardVitals in the past to earn CME, can I do that activity again?
Not at this time, but we are working to fix it!
While you can always use BoardVitals to refresh your knowledge of that content area, you will not be able to repeat the same activity again. At this time, each activity can only be completed once to be eligible for CME credit. This applies to different years as well. For example, if you completed our Internal Medicine activity in 2017, you would not be able to come back and earn credit again in 2020, at this time.
We realize that this is a feature that would be useful, so we are working to change it! We hope to have this issue fixed in the near future.