Eliminate Commercial Bias in Accredited Continuing Education Programs
Continuing education opportunities are in high demand. Learners from the legal, health care, and tech industries, among others, need continuing education credits to maintain certification and stay relevant in their fields.
According to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, or ACCME, nearly 30% of continuing education offerings are commercially supported. This means they are created and implemented by a business looking to help learners expand their horizons.
However, this can lead to commercial bias, which is prohibited by the ACCME Standards for Integrity and Independence in Accrediting Continuing Education.
Commercial bias in Accredited Continuing Education can lead to a lack of objectivity, misinformation, and potential harm to patient care. It can also erode the credibility and trust of the education program and the accrediting body.
This means that your organization should do everything it can to prevent commercial bias from influencing your CE courses to preserve the integrity of your lessons and avoid costly consequences that come with negative public perception of commercial bias in CE courses.
What is Commercial Bias?
Commercial bias occurs when information is communicated in a way that tries to persuade participants to favor a specific commercial product or service to enhance a commercial entity’s bottom line.
In other words, commercial bias is the practice of creating commercial interest through continuing education activities. It can take a variety of forms, including:
Referencing only one commercial entity: When an accredited CE program only references or uses examples from a single commercial entity, it can create a perception of bias and limit the scope of information provided.
Displaying a commercial logo: Displaying a commercial entity's logo can create an impression of endorsement or sponsorship. This can compromise the independence of the educational program and suggest that the information being presented is influenced by the commercial entity whose logo is displayed.
Promoting a commercial interest: When instructors or speakers promote a commercial interest, it may lead to a lack of objectivity in the presentation of information. The audience may perceive the instructor or speaker as having a bias toward the commercial entity they are promoting. This can create a perception of impropriety and affect the credibility of the CE program.
Supporting a commercial entity: Providing information that suggests that a specific commercial entity is superior to others can create a perception of bias and affect the objectivity of the educational program. This may lead to participants using that commercial entity's products or services without considering other options that may be equally or more effective.
Displaying marketing materials: Displaying marketing materials or messages during a CE course can create a perception of bias and compromise the independence of the educational program. The presence of such materials can create the impression that the course is intended to promote the commercial entity's products or services rather than to provide unbiased educational information.
Even if you don’t intend to present a commercial bias, participants may feel your continuing education content is projecting that message. This is called perceived bias, which means learners feel a presenter, speaker, or course designer is favoring a commercial entity.
Both types of bias are different than including personal opinions because the goal is to improve a business’s reputation or sales rather than convince an audience to agree with their perspective.
While commercial bias may seem harmless to some, it can actually be detrimental to your continuing education activities. Let’s look at why avoiding commercial bias in continuing education courses is so important.
Why is it Important to Avoid Commercial Bias in CE?
Continuing education activities aim to increase knowledge and skillsets for a group of workers in a particular industry. They also help participants earn CE credits to help them maintain their licensure to practice their profession in their state.
Much like media bias, commercial bias compromises the course's quality and the CE providers' integrity in looking to help others improve their skills.
If these activities contain commercial influence, there’s a chance that the information present isn’t accurate and will not be as valuable to the learners.
For instance, a company could choose content that frames its product or service in a favorable light when it doesn’t reflect industry best practices. This means the educational offerings are compromised and will not yield the desired results.
Additionally, commercial bias prevents continuing education activities from meeting the policies and standards of ACCME, making it impossible to earn accreditation for your continuing education employee training courses.
Can Commercial Bias Prevent Accreditation?
Financial relationships between your industry and the professionals who operate within it are widespread and seem inevitable. However, these relationships have the potential to influence the topic of the content of your continuing education offerings.
Governing bodies, such as ACCME, have clear expectations that accredited providers must follow to qualify for accreditation. If commercial bias is present in the continuing education course, then the accrediting bodies will not accredit the CE activities.
Some companies must be more eligible for accreditation due to the increased risk of commercial bias in their CE offerings. That’s because it’s unethical to allow ideologies and viewpoints that may promote commercial interests within CME courses.
And it’s no secret that accredited CME or CE offerings are more desirable than non-accredited activities. That’s because they are accepted by state and national boards and count toward official licensure.
Now that you know why it is so crucial for CME providers to avoid commercial bias, let’s look at some tips you can use to prevent it as you plan and administer your continuing education courses.
5 Tips for Identifying and Eliminating Commercial Bias in CE
Continuing education planners are responsible for ensuring that their courses and training sessions are free of commercial bias.
To remain compliant, accredited providers must plan accordingly and continuously monitor their CE activities to prevent the appearance of commercial bias in their activities.
Let’s look at five ways you can identify, eliminate, and address commercial bias in your continuing education courses to make them more authentic and valuable for your target audience.
1. Pay Close Attention to Those in Control of Content
There are many moving parts when it comes to CE activities. Not only must you have a strong understanding of your industry’s needs, but you also need to ensure that all information you present is accurate and free of bias.
While accredited providers are ultimately responsible for the content of their courses, the truth is that others play a role in the development and implementation of the CE activity.
One way to prevent commercial bias is to regularly review materials, course content, and any interactions between presenters and participants to ensure that the content promotes knowledge rather than the specific interests of a commercial entity.
As you organize your CE course, be sure to communicate expectations on the commercial bias. Incorporate training sessions into planning to ensure everyone is on the same page and understands how different types of bias can hurt the quality of educational content.
You can add the expectations to the confirmation letter, speaker disclosure form, or a stand-alone content validation form. This information can set expectations with your guest speakers and instructors to avoid unwanted consequences down the road.
2. Ensure the Integrity of All Educational Materials
If you want to obtain or renew accreditation, it’s essential to ensure that all of your educational materials offer a balanced view of the topic at hand.
Ensure everyone understands that no logos, advertising, product-group messages, or trade names should appear on any educational materials. Your CE team should evaluate all materials to ensure they meet this standard.
For instance, the team members writing the materials should use generic names to ensure neutrality. If a trade name is mentioned, whether non-profit or for-profit, the names of several comparable companies should be used where available to avoid any perceived bias.
Implement a peer review process so that more than one set of eyes evaluates each educational document for bias. This will prevent an issue from slipping through the cracks.
If you uncover a conflict of interest (COI) within educational materials, handle it right away. Document everything and speak with the creator to help clarify why avoiding all types of bias is important during continuing education activities.
Document any conversations you have with the speakers who demonstrate a potential COI. You can do this in the form of an email, letter, or phone call. You may be asked to prove this conversation and how your team resolved the issue during the reaccreditation process.
3. Constantly Monitor Continuing Education Activities
Even though you’ve used careful planning to prevent commercial bias as you formulated your CE activities, you must monitor for potential bias that may arise throughout the course.
This is because guest speakers, educators, and facilitators may accidentally or intentionally express commercial interests to participants.
Whether they mention a specific commercial entity, display a logo, or recommend a single product they have a financial interest in, these actions can compromise your CE activity.
To evaluate whether commercial bias appears throughout the continuing education experience, you should:
Conduct a slide review right before the presentation, even if you’ve already vetted the slides.
Evaluate for any bias that may be perceived by the learner within a presentation.
Monitor the collection of all disclosures to prevent accidental commercial bias.
Keep an eye out for any potential conflicts of interest and address your concerns right away.
Review virtual event recordings to see if any commercial bias was present.
By continuously monitoring your CE activities, you’ll be able to recognize bias and resolve it before the next learning event.
4. Keep CE and Marketing COMPLETELY Separate
Your accredited CE activities must be completely free of product or service sales or marketing to be considered compliant.
This means that products or services cannot be sold or promoted during educational courses or activities. It protects the learner from commercial bias and allows them to access the information without any influence that would benefit a company.
So as an accredited provider, you must ensure that all choices made during planning, course delivery, and performance evaluation are without commercial influence.
The best way to do this is to separate your marketing tactics from your accredited CE activities. This clear distinction will ensure no accidental influence jeopardizes the integrity of your continuing education program.
Avoiding mixing CE marketing with other aspects of your marketing plan. Keep social media marketing posts separate when promoting your CE offerings and other financial interest. This will keep commercial bias out of your continuing education marketing plan.
5. Use Appropriate Mechanisms to Resolve Commercial Bias
Even with the most careful planning, commercial or perceived commercial bias may appear in your CE activities.
Remember, a COI occurs when the individuals have both the opportunity to impact the content of CME for commercial interest and a financial relationship with that commercial interest. So if there is an incentive to persuade participants towards a product or service, you must address this potential for bias.
It’s essential to understand the different approaches you must take depending on whether the planner, instructor, or speaker is responsible for the bias.
This is because some mechanisms used to address commercial bias with speakers do not address planners' role and responsibility in developing the content.
To handle commercial bias about speakers or instructors, follow a set protocol. Create a script to follow as you ask speakers to disclose relevant financial relationships during the early stages of developing the continuing education course. Determine what constitutes a COI and what will happen if your team discovers an undisclosed financial relationship.
If you find the presence of commercial bias in connection to a planner, you’ll need to move quickly to prevent these views from disseminating to your target audience. Even if they did not inherently promote a commercial interest, a perceived bias might be just as harmful.
Offer Your Target Audience Valuable, Accredited Continuing Education Opportunities
Your continuing education offerings not only help to enhance your industry, but they provide essential information to professionals who need it the most. Also, if they are an additional income stream for your organization, they help boost your bottom line.
So the presence of commercial bias can only harm your CE reputation and skew the information you present.
Now that you know the ins and outs of commercial bias, you’re ready to review your continuing education courses and learning materials to ensure they are fit for accreditation.
The best way to ensure your continuing education courses are bias-free is to partner with a team of experienced CE experts in designing training courses that meet all ACCME standards.
BeaconLive offers an end-to-end eLearning platform backed by fully managed services to improve your course offerings. We also have ample experience helping CE providers like you get their course accredited, meaning they can spot issues like commercial bias that may stand in the way of your accreditation success.