By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON — With stricter oversight of government conference spending, medical and pharmacy components within DoD and VA are working to ensure providers are still getting their necessary continuing medical education.
“In response to government-wide financial constraints on travel and face-to-face training events, VA and other federal agencies have significantly increased scrutiny of travel to conferences and other training events,” a VA spokesperson said in a written statement.
In the past year, several important federal conferences have fallen victim to budgetary issues. The American Pharmacists Association cancelled its 2013 Joint Forces Pharmacy Seminar (JFPS) in Orlando, which had been scheduled for Oct. 20-23, as a direct result of the federal government shutdown “and related circumstances beyond our control,” according to the conference website.
“The travel restrictions associated with the shutdown directly prevent our primary audience of Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard pharmacy personnel, speakers and leadership from attending,” the conference website explained.
The 2013 annual Military Health System conference also was cancelled earlier this year.
“We are disappointed that we needed to take this step. But, the ongoing federal budget issues required the Military Departments and OSD to make a series of near-term financial decisions to reduce overall spending in the Department,” according to a Jan. 18, 2013, notice from DoD Health Affairs.
While the annual AMSUS-The Society of Federal Health Professionals conference still is scheduled to take place this year, AMSUS made the difficult decision in 2012 to cancel its conference related to strict new conference guidelines.
In DoD, a variety of modes to obtain continuing medication education are being offered to healthcare professionals despite the availability of fewer conferences.
An Air Force spokesperson explained that, even in a fiscally constrained environment, all of its medical personnel are still able to attend conferences and events that are determined to be mission critical in order to obtain needed CE and CME.
“Other venues of education include online courses, local events, and webinars. All of the options allow us to both ensure the capability of our personnel to fulfill the medical mission with appropriate fiscal controls in today’s constrained environment,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, a DoD official told U.S. Medicine that a speaker series is one recent initiative started at the Defense Health Headquarters to help providers/employees get CME and GME.
“We reviewed the cancelled  MHS conference agenda and contacted those personnel who were scheduled to speak to now speak at the Defense Health Headquarters. Those speakers were already approved for credits, so it was an easy one,” the DoD spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury already allows DHA to participate in its webinars, which provide credits. In addition, DHA headquarters also has approached neighboring military institutions such as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Bethesda, MD, to inquire about the feasibility of presenting GME and CME seminars via video teleconference to Defense Health Headquarters staff.
“As we transition into the DHA, we have planned to look at many other opportunities within our confines to identify instructors and opportunities to serve our clinical customers,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, online training is an important component for continuing education for Army pharmacists. Army Pharmacy Program Manager & Pharmacy Consultant to the Surgeon General Col. John Spain explained there are “multiple venues for obtaining CE with the majority of pharmacists completing CE online and through webinar type presentations.”
“Army Pharmacy uses Internet tools such as Defense Connect Online (DCO) to provide targeted education on important topics related to Army Medicine priorities,” he explained in a written statement.
While he said that conference cancellations will not necessarily make it more challenging for pharmacists to obtain CE, he did point to the important value of conferences, such as the recently cancelled Joint Forces Pharmacy Seminar.
“Most medical conferences invite all members of the profession and provide a wide arrange of CE topics. The purpose of the JFPS was to provide targeted CE learning opportunities specific to military needs and initiatives,” he told U.S. Medicine in a written statement.
He explained that at the conference “significant effort is put forth by pharmacists and technicians to prepare presentations and posters that aim to share best practices, research efforts, and inform participants of clinically relevant information.”
“Attendance at a conference allows for many intangible benefits that take place in discussions after presentations and supports the development of networks to continue the sharing of knowledge. It is uninterrupted time away from the daily demands of work to focus on learning, improving performance, and engendering commitment and involvement in DoD Pharmacy Initiatives,” he said.VA Conferences
While VHA subsidizes a portion of the overall costs incurred for clinicians to obtain CME, reimbursement to physicians and dentists might not be available if comparable in-house training is available, a VA spokesperson explained.
While clinicians are being steered toward internal resources for training, VHA continues to support participation in externally sponsored conferences because it “cannot and will never be able to develop and deliver the specialized training needed to maintain the licenses for all VHA clinical health care occupations” the spokesperson stated.
“Given the large number of clinicians, specialties and subspecialties within VHA, it would be cost-prohibitive to provide training targeted to each clinical area that would satisfy all licensing and certification requirements in every state. For this reason VHA relies upon externally-sponsored training developed and delivered by professional associations,” according to the VA spokesperson.
The VHA’s partnership with DoD and other agencies when it comes to training remains vital, according to the spokesperson.
“In FY 13, the VHA-led Federal Healthcare Training Partnership shared more than 575 training programs across its 14 partner agencies, and more than 280 training programs between the VHA and DoD. Despite the challenge of conference cancellations, VHA continues to seek and create training opportunities with DoD via joint-sponsored events.
“We are aggressively working to provide mutual access to the other’s respective events, for example, in virtual training for the monthly grand rounds training program. FY13 data for the 26 joint VA/DoD virtual clinical grand rounds confirms more than 6,800 participants and 1,228 requests for CMEs.”