Every physician knows that he or she must earn continuing medical education (CME) credits to maintain licensure, hospital privileges, specialty membership or membership in insurance payment plans.
Until recently, you could earn CME credits by attending live meetings and conferences or with home-study materials such as books, audiotapes, videotapes or CD-ROMs.
During the past few years, an exciting new form of CME has emerged: Online Continuing Medical Education (Online CME).
What is Online CME?
Online CME is a way to earn CME credits, over the Internet, using your computer, from home or office.
Online CME has some great advantages: There is a wide variety of courses available (over 12,000 courses at this time); Online CME is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from the comfort of your home or office; you can view courses at your own speed, stopping and starting as you like, going back to view or listen as often as you wish. It is extremely affordable; many courses are free or cost $5-15 per credit hour.
What do I need to get started?
You need a computer (preferably not older than 3 or 4 years), an Internet connection, speakers and a printer. You probably already have all of these, so for most doctors, you will need no additional equipment.
What are the types of instruction I may find in Online CME?
There is a wide variety of instruction types, to suit every doctor's preferences. You will find:
- Simple Text or Text-and-graphics (like reading a textbook or journal)
- Slide-audio or slide-video lectures (like being at a lecture)
- Case-based interactive (like treating a "real" patient); you get to make choices according to the clinical presentation
- Quiz questions and answers (the program asks you a question, waits for your answer, and then gives you explanations and information based on your answer)
- Games where you gain or lose points for your answers
- Correspondence courses (a group of doctors study material and correspond with each other by email)
How much does Online CME cost?
Online CME is surprisingly inexpensive! There are more than 2000 credit-hours of Online CME available without charge. Another 16,000 hours cost $5 to $15 per credit-hour while a small minority of Online CME courses cost more than $15 per credit-hour.
What is required of me when I visit an online CME site?
Many doctors may fear a loss of privacy or hidden fees when visiting Internet sites. This is not the case with Online CME sites. There is almost never any fee to look at the site or the list of courses. The site will usually ask you to give some basic information about yourself and to choose a user name and password before going too far. In many cases, you can view the instruction without giving any personal information. However, to earn CME credit, you will need to tell them who you are, so they can issue your CME certificate. If there is a fee for credit, you usually pay by credit card.
"I get all the CME I need at live meetings; why should I bother doing CME on the Internet?"
Live meetings are important, and they will never be completely replaced by the Internet. But there are some distinct advantages to Online CME: Online CME is always there, waiting for you, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at home or at the office
* You can proceed at your own speed, going back to hear or see important points you might not have picked up the first time through
* You have the opportunity to hear lectures by experts, no matter where you or they may be located
* There are no travel costs and no costs for closing your office or finding coverage
* It is very inexpensive
"I am not very good at the computer. Is it hard to do Online CME?"
It is not at all difficult to do Online CME. If you have the most basic Internet skills, such as pointing and clicking, going forward and back in your browser, opening and closing windows and two-finger typing, you will do just fine.