Non-Clinical Continuing Education Grant Funding: Questions and Opportunities

By Greselda Butler, CHCP, Senior Manager, Grants and Contributions, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Companies (US)

On Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, the Industry Alliance for Continuing Education (IACE) member section meeting was convened during the 2017 Alliance for CEhp Annual Conference. The robust agenda included an informal single-question, response-dependent poll administered to commercial support members only, and seeking feedback on the topic of non-drug/non-device/non-clinical CE for healthcare professionals (HCPs).

The impetus for the poll was a discussion among members of IACE and the medical specialty society special interest group (MSS/IACE SIG) about education solutions that address the unmet needs of HCPs when the identified gaps are not specifically of a clinical nature.

During the discussion, it was determined that it would be useful to gain a better understanding of how this type of CE is defined and if/how it is positioned within a commercial supporter’s educational strategy. The polling responses, while not generalizable, yielded valuable perspectives and opportunity for reflection on the role of commercial support in defining and funding non-drug/non-device/non-clinical CE for HCPs.


A simple, encompassing definition was used to frame the primary polling question and ensuing discussion.


Question: Is continuing education (CE) with a sole focus on non-drug/non-device/non-clinical content part of your educational strategy?

14 percent (n=3) of respondents answered the question “yes.”

86 percent (n=18) answered “no” to the question.

(See Figure 1)

Chart 1.png

Figure 1

Follow-up, Group A

Three follow-up questions were posed to the respondents who answered “yes” to the primary question.


  1. Does your organization have a separate grant budget from which to allocate funds for this type of education?
    100 percent of the respondents answered that they do not have a separate grant budget for non-drug/nondevice/non-clinical education.
  2. What percentage of the total annual CE grant budget is allocated to non-drug/non-device/non-clinical CE?
    100 percent of respondents answered 0-10 percent.
  3. Are non-drug/non-device/non-clinical CE grants processed in the same manner as clinically focused grants?
    100 percent of respondents answered “yes.”


Follow-up, Group B

Two follow-up questions were posed to the 18 respondents who answered “no” to the primary polling question.

  1. Does your organization plan to fund non-drug/nondevice/non-clinical CE in the future?
    66 percent of respondents (n=12) answered “no.”
    34 percent (n=6) were “unsure.”
    (See Figure 2)
  2. What, if any, barriers exist to funding non-drug/nondevice/non-clinical CE?
    100 percent of respondents answered that budget is a barrier to funding, while lack of stakeholder investment (50 percent), and uncertainties about how to evaluate the education (28 percent) were also cited as barriers.
    0 percent of respondents cited quality-related concerns.

Chart 2.png

Figure 2


What insights were gleaned from poll responses?

What is clear from the subsequent conversation is that there is no consensus on the definition of non-drug/non-device/non-clinical CE.

Variability was high among different organizations, with content topics ranging from health literacy to health information and risk management to patient advocacy. Among the commercial supporters that fund such education, it was noted that they are more likely to receive a clinically focused CE grant request that includes non-clinical content as a component of the education, as opposed to a standalone non-clinical intervention. This makes sense given the limited information and guidance available for organizations that want to implement this type of education. Utilizing a familiar approach may lower perceived risks and/or barriers associated with funding.

What, if any, barriers exist to funding non-drug/non-device/non-clinical CE?

figure 3.png

Figure 3

With budget identified as a primary barrier along with stakeholder buy-in, respondents emphasized the importance of the educational strategy to advocate effectively for the funding dollars to support non-clinical CE. Collaboration was discussed as a potential strategy. For instance, hybrid education opportunities may potentially be co-funded with another department such as government or public affairs if patient advocacy and education or health policy content is included. Likewise, the education provider may choose to partner with a healthcare professional or advocacy organization to gain access to data and insights about the target audience and strengthen the rationale for funding approval.

A critical consideration highlighted by some participants is the availability of skilled educators with experience designing, implementing and measuring non-drug/non-device/non-clinical continuing education. It is said that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” and just as with traditional clinical CE, selecting the correct methods and metrics are the foundation of an evidence-based education intervention. Twenty-eight percent of respondents identified that uncertainties around the evaluation of the content and interpretation of the outcomes data create a barrier, highlighting a need for continuing professional development for both commercial supporters and providers who want to include non-clinical CE as a tactic within the larger educational strategy.

While no concrete conclusions should be drawn due to the informality of the poll and small sample size, a conversation has begun that will benefit from further exploration with all relevant stakeholders as healthcare education professionals identify new opportunities to design, develop and measure education that is optimally aligned with the evolving practice of medicine and patient care.

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