Educational Planning

Introduction

Successful educational planning of a CME activity consists of three main parts, illustrated and described briefly below:

Firstly, Educational Planners need to identify the existing professional practice gap the activity is designed to close. A practice gap is the difference between current practice*️ and best practice based on the latest professional knowledge in the field.

Secondly, Educational Planners need to determine the educational needs that must be addressed to close the identified professional practice gap. Educational needs will have a “knowledge need.” Sound educational planning should also describe additional educational needs related to competence (ability to do in theory) and/or performance (routinely doing).

Finally, Educational Planners must describe the expected results of the activity. These results should describe how addressing the educational need(s) will produce change in competence and/or performance, or ideally patient outcomes.

*Gaps can be identified for physicians or healthcare teams in any area of professional practice ( i.e. clinical work, teaching, research, administrative, etc.)

Tools to Help Educational Planning in CME

1. Identify the Professional Practice Gap

The simplest and most common way to identify a gap is to examine one's own practice and ask:

What challenges do my colleagues and I frequently face? What issues do we want to fix? What skills do we need to improve?

The three primary types of gaps in continuing medical education are often described in the following ways:

Type of Practice Gap Description of Practice Gap
Knowledge - What a physician/healthcare team doesn’t know or understand. Example: Ophthalmologists are not aware of new methods to diagnose and treat patients with uncommon eye conditions.
Competence - What a physician/healthcare team knows, but isn’t yet able to do. Example: Internal medicine physicians understand the principles of root cause analysis but are unable to complete a sentinel event review.
Performance - What a physician/healthcare team knows and is able to do, but is not routinely doing in practice. Example: Cardiologists are not routinely checking cardiac enzymes in all patients presenting with acute myocardial infarction.

A list of potential sources Educational Planners can use to identify practice gaps is listed below:

Direct information:

  • Medical audit or other patient-care reviews
  • Problem cases and uncommon cases
  • Referrals
  • Participant perceptions of problems / needed change (e.g., group discussion, interview, questionnaire)
  • Observations of CME planner, clinical leader(s), or others

Broad-based information:

  • Publications/scientific literature about clinical innovations in practice
  • Reports on regional/national performance in practice
  • Presentations at national professional meetings about needed change in practice
  • Review of Board Exam requirements
  • Planned periodic survey of the field

Leaders in the sponsoring unit (e.g., department, division, section): 

  • Inpatient clinical activities (e.g., service chief)
  • Outpatient clinical activities (e.g., clinic director, health center medical director)
  • Quality improvement leader
  • Compliance officer

2. Determine the Educational Needs that will close the Professional Practice Gap

Educational needs should directly align with the identified practice gap(s). Educational needs in continuing medical education may be described as follows:

Type of Educational Need Description of Educational Need
Knowledge - What a physician/healthcare team needs to know or understand. Example: Ophthalmologists need to be aware of new methods to diagnose and treat patients with uncommon eye conditions.
Competence - What a physician/ healthcare team needs to be able to do (in theory). Example: Vascular surgeons need to be able to correctly apply an aortic cross clamp when performing an aortic aneurysm repair.
Performance - What a physician/healthcare team needs to routinely do in practice. Example: Primary care doctors need to routinely screen for diabetes mellitus in adolescent patients presenting with weight loss and polyuria.

3. Describe the Expected Results

The final step in the educational planning process is to describe the expected results of the activity. For the purposes of demonstrating educational planning in CME, expected results must go beyond describing changes in knowledge. Expected results must also describe the expected changes in physician competence (the ability to do something in theory), physician performance (doing something routinely in practice), or positive changes in patient outcomes that will occur as a result of the activity.

Expected results in continuing medical education may be described as follows:

Type of Expected Result Description of Expected Result
Competence - What a physician/healthcare team will be able to do (in theory). Example: Ophthalmologists will to be able to use new new methods available in the diagnosis and treatment of uncommon eye conditions.
Performance - What a physician/healthcare team will routinely do in clinical practice. Example: Emergency room physicians will routinely follow the most up-to-date guidelines for antibiotic use in all patients suspected of having acute bacterial meningitis.
Patient Outcomes - How the patient will benefit as a result of physician education. Example: Patients will have a lower incidence of postoperative nausea and vomiting when anesthesiologists routinely follow best practice in antiemetic prophylaxis.

Expected results of the activity can also be used to help generate learning objectives Use of terms that solely describe the accumulation of knowledge should be avoided, as the expected results describe the true aim(s) of the activity.