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Conducting a CME Activity Needs Assessment
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Conducting a CME Activity Needs Assessment

What is a needs assessment?

A CME activity needs assessment (sometimes called needs analysis) is performed prior to developing CME activities to determine what health care providers need to learn. That is, the knowledge, skills, attitudes, or changes in practice behavior health care providers need. Needs assessments enable you to identify and measure gaps between what is and what ought to be, from which program goals and objectives can then be identified. Conducting an assessment is a way to collect information that can be used to decide what type of educational information will be perceived as relevant and useful. An assessment enables a conversation to take place that questions what skills and knowledge is required to be more effective.

Why is needs assessment important?

Research has shown that educational activities based on learning needs are more effective in delivering sustainable educational outcomes for participants. The needs assessment process is an important first step in the development of any educational activity because we might think we already know what the needs are, but usually our knowledge is based on impressions, or experiences of limited situations or of observations of only a few persons who may not be representative of the population we are concerned with. Needs assessment data is also important because it facilitates your ability to plan, make better informed decisions, set priorities about your program development and improvement needs. Needs assessment should be conducted as a first step in planning an educational activity and identification of needs provides the basis for writing activity objectives. 

How do you conduct a needs assessment?

There are many sources of information that can be used for conducting a needs assessment. A quality CME needs assessment establishes health care providers’ learning needs from a number of different perspectives and may also address different types of need. The following are examples of needs assessment data sources that can be used:

  • Surveys (including survey of past activity participants, and survey of general membership of a key audience)
  • Board of Director and/or Committee Meeting Minutes
  • Expert Opinion
  • Evaluation Results/Reports from Other Educational Activities
  • Informal Discussions/Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Consensus Conferences
  • Epidemiological Data
  • New Advances in Clinical Treatments

Links to Web Sites with data that can be used for needs assessment:

Sample needs assessment data and corresponding activity learning objectives:

Sample 1

Needs Data

In 2002, seven ARHP annual meeting participants listed “HPV and cervical cancer” as a general topic on the evaluation form question which asked “What topics would you like to see covered in the future by ARHP?” Three of these comments specifically mentioned desire to learn more about “new technologies in cervical cancer detection,” “progress with HPV vaccine,” and “how to understand new ‘abnormal pap’ guidelines from medical/professional societies.”

Corresponding activity learning objectives

In 2003, ARHP offered a pre-conference workshop on this topic with the following objectives: 1) understand vaginal and cervical diseases that can be detected through cervical cytology procedures, 2) understand cervical cytology laboratory results and appropriate follow-up recommendations, including management of borderline abnormal and abnormal tests, 3) review colposcopic interpretations, 4) discuss new data related to cervical cytology testing and the treatment of dysplasia, 5) understand psychosocial and counseling issues related to vaginal and cervical diseases.

Sample 2

Needs Data

The halting of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) led to a flurry of articles in newspapers, professional journals, and informal discussion among ARHP members about the safety and appropriateness of hormone therapy for menopausal women. Much of this information was conflicting, and ARHP received many notices from members seeking a clarifying summary and analysis of WHI data. The ARHP board of directors also documented a need for more education on hormone therapy during a brainstorming session at a board meeting.

Corresponding activity learning objectives

To meet this need, ARHP developed an issue of its clinical monograph, Clinical Proceedings, entitled Hormone Therapy and Menopause Care. The objectives were to: 1) discuss key findings from the Women’s Health Initiative regarding coronary heart disease, breast cancer, venus thromboembolic events, stroke, and osteoporotic fractures and how these findings should be applied to the treatment of menopausal women, 2) describe three effective menopausal therapy talking points that help patients make informed decisions about hormone therapy, 3) list four requisites for individualizing hormone therapy.