Reflections On CME Provider/Supporter Communication

Last week, I was honored to be on the Supporter/Provider Expectations Panel — How they Can Work Together to Better Align Expectations at the CBI Independent Medical Education and Grants conference. My specific section of the panel discussion, along with my partner Greselda Butler, focused on minimal vs optimal provider/supporter communication. For anyone interested, here is a copy of the handout we distributed, which contains a nice summary grid of the discussion (kudos to Greselda, who did the bulk of the work on this).


When it came to my time to talk, I went straight to the heart of what I see as the #1 area of concern with provider/supporter communication – communication around grant review and decision. Moderator Brian McGowan had established one rule for the panel session: no whining. I broke that rule like an over-caffeinated bull in the proverbial china shop. I whined my pants off. I did so out of a sense of obligation to all the CME providers I represented on that panel. Over the past few years, I have had so many conversations with frustrated providers (I include myself in that group) who are dying for just a little bit of feedback on their grant proposals, that I felt a need to vent just a little. I shared the story of working with my team on a grant proposal, seeing them work late and come in on weekends to finish it up, submit it, and receive a two sentence rejection email 24 hours later with no explanation as to why it was declined. I shared examples of grant review “minimal communication” (see handout) I had received, changing only the name of the company.

It was…unfair of me.

It is easy to play the critic. Criticism is easy – solutions are hard. I offered no solutions, but instead took the easy road. So, below I have given my own opinions on how both providers and supporters can approach communication around grants. I’m not going to go so far as to call them solutions, but rather, a few suggestions for consideration.

SUPPORTERS

  • It’s really quite simple. All CME providers want is a little bit of information, a little feedback, as to why a grant was declined. It doesn’t have to be overly detailed (though the more detail, the better) and it doesn’t have to be a phone call (though that would be great, too). Just a sentence or two saying why. Although not ideal, even the templated emails that pull one or two reasons from a list are preferable to no feedback at all.
  • If specific feedback is simply not an option, then a one sentence email saying a grant has been declined is preferable to an email with a “Choose Your Own Adventure” list of potential reason’s why a grant was declined.
  • There are no ACCME guidelines stating that you can’t provide feedback on grant requests. Please don’t use them as an excuse for saying nothing.
  • When possible, it’s nice to have a specific name to contact with questions, rather than just a generic “Grants Department” email or phone number

PROVIDERS

  • Stop whining (“Hello, Pot?” “Yes?” “Hi, this is Kettle. You’re black.” “I see. Thanks for letting me know.”).
  • Just because the email you receive doesn’t have specific feedback doesn’t mean feedback isn’t available. As I was reminded during our panel session, many of these emails are accompanied by a phone number and a request to contact them with questions. I have attempted this with varying results, but it is still an option. Use it.
  • Understand that those on the supporter side do sometimes have compliance standards they are beholden to, from an internal standpoint, that prevents them from sharing feedback. It’s not always up to them. It stinks for you the provider, but don’t take it out on those who can’t do anything about it. They just might agree with you.
  • This last point doesn’t deal directly with grant decision communication, but I thought it was a good one and worth sharing here. Supporters do read your grant submissions. At least, they definitely read what you put in the grant applications. Do they read your full proposal you have included as an attachment? I’d say, it depends. John Ruggiero at Genentech made the excellent suggestion that CME providers should think of the grant application as their elevator pitch to the supporter. Use that application to convince them that they want to find out more about your program and want to read your full proposal. Even though we might find those character-limited text boxes annoying, use them to your advantage and avoid just writing “see attached” (side note: nuts, that’s my go-to move). Do that, and maybe you’ll be able to worry a little less about grant decision feedback…
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