CME Without Borders

The New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians has pioneered a new educational initiative that ties eight virtual sessions into a live meeting.

Recently the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians (NJAFP) debuted its first-ever hybrid CME course — but didn’t confine things to the Garden State. Primary-care physicians from seven state chapters of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) took the eight-week virtual program on major depressive disorders (MDD), which kicked off with live sessions at each chapter’s annual meeting beginning in January.

NJAFP used ArcheCourse, an online platform developed by software company ArcheMedX, to build out a virtual course room to facilitate better collaboration between learners and instructors. All in all, it took two years for NJAFP and ArcheMedX to move from a “what if” discussion over coffee to the successful realization of their shared vision. “When we were considering doing this, it was actually part of a much larger initiative that included live events and learning materials,” said Theresa Barrett, Ph.D., NJAFP’s deputy executive vice president. “We leaned heavily on what we have learned through research into adult and continuing education to design a split classroom course. I’m a huge proponent of live meetings — I think it’s where the best kind of learning happens, but it’s hard for family physicians to take the time off to go to a three-day course on MDD.”

Because many of the activities associated with the MDD course were accredited for CME, Barrett’s team had to come up with innovative ways to measure learning and deliver content. Working with ArcheMedX, they created a virtual course room that included video lessons, self-assessments, and searchable libraries with additional resources for each course module. The platform also allowed learners to discuss course content with instructors and fellow classmates, take notes, and set reminders for themselves.

Bearing in mind that physicians are pressed for time, the average course segment ran 15 to 20 minutes. Each week, several different topics were addressed, and learners could use the discussion forums to assess which modules would be most useful to them.

NJAFP was thrilled with the feedback on the pilot program and is planning additional CME courses. “If we were to pull the plug on this program today, I would say that it would already be a success,” said Ray Saputelli, CAE, NJAFP’s executive vice president and CEO. “When you’re involved in the day-to-day of a project, you don’t often get to go to the 30,000-foot level and look down and see the quantity and quality of content in a very important therapeutic area to physicians and the population in general.”

Saputelli would advise other organizations considering virtual educational initiatives to double or triple the time committed to in-person learning sessions, and allocate their senior talent to course development. “We’ve now built some of the infrastructure in terms of  … the technology and the workflow process,” he said. “The next time we go down this road, we’ll have a better understanding of the time it actually takes and we will probably be able to be more economical or efficient.”

Better Health Care

For Brian S. McGowan, Ph.D., chief learning officer and co-founder of ArcheMedX, NJAFP’s major depressive disorders course was a realization of professional goals that extended far beyond the virtual course room his company built. As a biomedical research scientist, McGowan became increasingly interested in the way information flows through the health-care space, and set aside his scientific pursuits to dig deeper into how education has shifted away from what he called the “one-man band, genius model” toward a more social, collaborative experience for learners. McGowan ended up writing a book, #SocialQI: Simple Solutions for Improving Your Healthcare, that explores how creating new learning environments for physicians that “re-engineer the information flow” could drastically improve health care.

Kate Mulcrone

Kate Mulcrone is digital editor of Convene.