Medical educators begin institute

Columbia firm hopes its two-year program will give it an edge

Howard Business

April 01, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Medicalliance has long been in the business of arranging medical education programs with the help of universities. Now the Columbia company has become the school.

The 14-year-old medical communications company recently launched the Medicalliance Education Institute - an education division that gives physicians credit to meet their continuing education requirements. The school is at the company's Columbia headquarters.

The new division was formed after the company was accredited through a two-year process by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). The achievement is a feather in the cap for the 40-person company, and one Donna Fucello hopes will give Medicalliance an advantage over its competitors.

"It shows in the marketplace that we're a real player," said Fucello, director of continuing medical education at the institute. "It puts us in this higher echelon of medical communications providers."

The new division will bring in income to the company, which had revenues of slightly less than $10 million last year, but Medicalliance President Susan Torroella said she did not know how much additional income that would be.

The big benefit to being accredited, as she sees it, is that the company could "shave weeks off" the time it takes to produce an educational program.

"We do know this is an important factor that companies do evaluate," she said, speaking of accreditation. "If a pharmaceutical company is launching a vaccine and wants to provide a grant for educational programming, ... when they evaluate which company to give the grant to, us having accreditation means it can go faster. That could tip the scale when a company is determining between two or three [medical communications] companies. "

Medicalliance is an education and communications company that acts as a marketer and go-between for pharmaceutical companies and physicians.

The company helps the pharmaceutical industry gain input from physicians on their products, and later educates physicians with conferences and other programs on the use of those products.

In the field, the Columbia company is one of a few independent firms nationally. Most are divisions of large advertising agencies such as WPP Group, which holds four companies focusing on healthcare communication.

For years, Medicalliance has used its contacts in the medical and pharmaceutical worlds to plan educational programs under the guidance of an accredited body - such as a university - which can offer input on learning objectives but does not usually have the resources to plan the program.

By obtaining accreditation, Medicalliance joins major universities such as the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and large competitors such as Ventiv Health Inc., which also are accredited by ACCME.

The institute is responsible for deciding what to cover in each seminar Medicalliance produces, making sure that the material presented is fair and balanced, and for certifying the physicians who attend.

Many continuing medical education programs are paid for by grants from pharmaceutical companies, and are free to physicians.

In 37 states, including Maryland, physicians need the credits earned from those programs to renew their licenses. Continuing medical education programs can focus on topics as varied as reviewing hospital procedures to reduce patient infections or new technologies and research on treating heart disease.

Of the 683 organizations accredited by the council, ACCME, about 80 are medical communications companies, said Dr. Richard F. Tischler, a former director of accreditation and recognition services with the group. He is treasurer with the North American Association of Medical Education and Communication Companies and president of a consulting firm. Between 150 and 200 such companies are in the United States, he said.

Tischler said medical education and communications companies have only begun seeking accreditation in the past 10 years, as funding from pharmaceutical companies has increased.

He said companies often seek accreditation to keep from having to deal with the policies and procedures of the varied other accredited organizations with which they work. But the distinction also can help when the companies approach pharmaceutical grantors.

"When they develop ideas for activities and want to get them funded ... they hold a greatly higher standing in they eyes of those funders," Tischler said.

He said that another reason is to establish a brand among physicians.

"Many of the organizations want to brand their [continuing medical education] because they want to get the physician to recognize them as an accredited provider," he said.

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