What is Continuing medical education (CME)?

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“Study to save lives” is a quote that healthcare practitioners live by. Continuing medical education (CME) is instrumental for staying updated on the latest advancements in the medical field and providing the highest standards of care. However, while healthcare providers are getting trained to save lives, quite a lot happens in the back end to optimize CME expenditure.

CME management

What is CME?

Continuing Medical Education (CME) refers to educational activities designed to maintain or develop the knowledge, skills, and relationships needed by physicians to ensure competent and enhanced services to their patients.

On an annual basis, healthcare professionals (HCP) like doctors, dentists, nursing professionals, and pharmacists are required to participate in these activities either in the form of classes, conferences, online courses, or hands-on training. CME courses could be compulsory and mandated by the institution for its employees or the individual may have an option of which courses to pursue.

These courses are then assigned credits that are authorized by the American Medical Association Physician’s Recognition Award. CME credits are important to physicians since they require a specific number of credits to maintain a full medical license to practice or to earn specialty board certifications and clinical privileges. Also, most hospitals require a specific number of credits for their physicians to practice and treat patients at their institution.

In this article, we’ll learn how to track and manage CME expenses and keep this spending under control.

Managing CME spend manually

CME spend is a major contributor to the healthcare sector’s T&E. Since CME is required for medical licenses to stay current, most firms allocate funds for each of their professionals to attend CME classes and conferences. Managing this CME spend can involve everything from mapping out costs and tracking compliance to checking for reimbursement fraud. Unfortunately, this is an area where many healthcare organizations can fall short due to the lack of appropriate systems and processes in place.

Typically, HCPs keep track of their CME allowance by collecting receipts or other paper records and entering the incurred expenses into spreadsheets. Then, they check the spreadsheet at every step to calculate the amount spent so they can subtract it from their budgets. Since the entire process is done manually, it’s time-consuming, error-prone, and tedious. And it doesn’t end there. Spreadsheets give the finance team limited visibility into the CME spend, making it difficult to check if an HCP has exceeded their budget or detect fraudulent expenses and miscalculations.

Solving these CME spend management challenges

To have real-time visibility into CME spend as and when the expenses are incurred, the team requires an effective expense management application. With this, they can control budgets, re-allocate funds, approve or reject expenses, and monitor compliance efficiently.

Draft a clear and concise expense policy

Your expense policy lays the foundation for your CME system. Adopt a balanced policy to cut overspending or fraudulent claims at their source. To enable this, your policy must explain what your firm considers a legitimate CME expense and the process by which employees must seek reimbursement. HCPs must be aware of these details and procedures in order to avoid confusion or discrepancies later.

You can start by mentioning the guidelines for reimbursing registration and tuition fees for CME classes. The books and online subscriptions needed for CME courses can be included in this as well. Next, outline the rules for travel and accommodation expenses. Most travel expenses are related to out-of-state conferences that are essential to earn CME credit. Your policy must include the rules on booking air tickets and accommodation and whether your firm covers these for spouses as well.

With expense management software in place, you can configure the application according to your  T&E policies—from booking with preferred vendors to expense limits, per diems, mileage expenses, and approval workflows. This prevents expense fraud and increases policy compliance rates. You can also implement and enforce different policies to different departments based on their spending limits and requirements. An expense management application controls spend by notifying submitter of the expense limits and only accepting expenses within the policy. Policy violations are automatically detected and flagged, and the corresponding approvers are notified of such claims as they happen. For wider policy adoption among your employees, don’t limit your travel policy to just dos and don’ts. Be sure to explain why these rules have been laid down and how they align with your firm’s objectives.

Enable expense reporting on the go

Healthcare providers are busy people, so there are bound to be delays between the time expenses are incurred and when expense reports are submitted. Traditional expense reporting methods tend to leave HCPs with heaps of receipts, especially if they are forced to enter all their expenses manually.

By offering expense reporting solutions with mobile apps that are simple to use and available via Android or iOS, you can remove the need for manual data entry and rigorous manual supervision. Online expense reporting software comes equipped with useful features like receipt scanning and direct integration with corporate cards. HCPs can simply capture the receipts using their mobile phones and upload them directly to the expense application. Corporate credit and prepaid cards are an essential part of CME expense tracking. When these cards are connected to an expense reporting solution, the card transactions are fetched automatically and converted into expenses. In both cases, the software sifts through the expenses added during a specific date range, gathers them into a report, and submits them to the finance team without the HCP having to lift a finger.

Enhance compliance and control

Manual expense reporting offers minimal security, exposing you to more instances of fraudulent claims. Spreadsheets are an easy target since the data can easily be overwritten or altered after gaining approval. Detecting expense fraud in such cases is difficult since the finance team must first identify an instance of fraud and prove it, the processing cost of which is often more than the cost of the claim itself. Validating expenses is another challenge—employees could submit the same receipt twice or round up their mileage expenses to a higher amount, and these violations are likely to slip through the cracks and get reimbursed.

Expense reporting software helps alleviate these issues by automatically detecting fraudulent expenses. The software identifies duplicate receipts and out-of-policy claims and notifies the submitter to resolve the violations. An application with a GPS-supported mileage tracking feature will allow you to track travel without relying on estimated fuel reimbursement claims. In addition, customized multi-level approval workflows allow employers to add an extra level of review before reimbursement to ensure transparency.

Create and justify budgets efficiently

Typically, HCPs keep track of their allowances by calculating how much they’ve spent to plan and budget the remaining funds accordingly. Since each trip or course is manually entered and processed, there’s a high possibility of miscalculation. This leads to one of two instances — physicians exceed the amounted budget for the year or they end up going under budget, leaving institutional funds unused.

Expense management applications offer HCPs some much-needed insight into their spending and the ability to budget accordingly. They can easily view the amount they’ve spent and their remaining balance in just a few clicks. This way, there’s no space for errors or miscalculations. Finance teams can track the actuals versus the CME budget at every stage, configuring alerts to notify employees once they reach their threshold. They can also block expense report submission and approval when the budget exceeds that threshold. With efficient budgeting, finance teams can access timely and accurate data to facilitate decision-making, and HCPs can make budget adjustments without any last-minute hassles. 

Here’s your takeaway!

The financial aspect of CME is perhaps the toughest to manage. By implementing a good expense reporting application like Zoho Expense, healthcare organizations can streamline the entire process. This will help the HCPs focus on more important tasks at hand like enhancing their knowledge to save lives while providing the required visibility and ensuring policy compliance for the hospitals. Also, by reimbursing employees on time for CME-related expenses, you can hire and retain the best talent while facilitating better employee satisfaction.

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