Effects of continuing medical education on improving physician clinical care and patient health: a review of systematic reviews

Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2005 Summer;21(3):380-5. doi: 10.1017/s026646230505049x.


Objectives: The objective of physician continuing medical education (CME) is to help them keep abreast of advances in patient care, to accept new more-beneficial care, and discontinue use of existing lower-benefit diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. The goal of this review was to examine effectiveness of current CME tools and techniques in changing physician clinical practices and improving patient health outcomes.

Methods: Results of published systematic reviews were examined to determine the spectrum from most- to least-effective CME techniques. We searched multiple databases, from 1 January 1984 to 30 October 2004, for English-language, peer-reviewed meta-analyses and other systematic reviews of CME programs that alter physician behavior and/or patient outcomes.

Results: Twenty-six reviews met inclusion criteria, that is, were either formal meta-analyses or other systematic reviews. Interactive techniques (audit/feedback, academic detailing/outreach, and reminders) are the most effective at simultaneously changing physician care and patient outcomes. Clinical practice guidelines and opinion leaders are less effective. Didactic presentations and distributing printed information only have little or no beneficial effect in changing physician practice.

Conclusions: Even though the most-effective CME techniques have been proven, use of least-effective ones predominates. Such use of ineffective CME likely reduces patient care quality and raises costs for all, the worst of both worlds.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Education, Medical, Continuing / economics
  • Education, Medical, Continuing / methods*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing / standards*
  • Humans
  • Patient Care / standards*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic
  • Teaching
  • Treatment Outcome