The purpose of this study was to investigate the attitudes of health care providers towards Internet-based education as a method to meet continuing medical education (CME) requirements. A questionnaire was administered to 111 providers at a large outpatient clinic/inpatient hospital in the southeastern United States; interviews were also conducted. Providers were aware Internet-based CME exists; only 50% reported that useful modules were available. Younger providers were more aware of Internet-based CME than older providers. Provider age and the number of years practicing medicine had no effect on providers' attitudes towards computers, the Internet, and Internet-based CME. Overall, providers had a positive attitude towards Internet-based CME and consider it a viable alternative; however, almost all providers surveyed prefer traditional CME methods such as meetings and seminars. Provider attitudes towards computers and the Internet do not predict attitudes towards Internet-based CME in this population.
Continuing medical education (CME) allows providers to maintain credentialing, proficiency, and currency in their field and provides them an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the newest technologies, drug regimens, standards of practice, and methods. In addition, it bridges the gap between research and clinical practice (Peterson, Galvin, Dayton, & D' Alessandro, 1999). Providers must complete 150 units of CME every 3 years to maintain licensure and competency requirements (Marquand, 1998). Traditional seminars and meetings remain the method of choice for providers to obtain required CME (Smith, 1998). However, traditional CME is expensive and in these days of managed health care and cost cutting, it is often the first item cut from the hospital or provider's office budget. Web-based CME is considerably less costly than traditional meetings and seminars (Belfiglio, 1999).
Internet-based Education and Cost Savings
In the mid 1990's, Internet-based education became available for health care providers. The Internet opened up a wide variety of national and international medical educational resources to the provider populace. In health care, investment in instructional technologies, such as Web-based education, is expected to improve communication and accessibility to information, increase efficiencies and reduce costs. When evaluating CME effectiveness, quality patient care and good patient outcomes should be the primary drivers of decisions rather than cost or efficiency. According to the Web-based Training Information Center, 78% of employers consider computer-based training to be extremely cost efficient (Wiesner, 1998). Lee (1999) reports that when companies have a rational mindset and want to save money, the company chooses the first solution that meets the minimum requirements. If a technology is implemented and the providers will not use it, do not know how to use it, or do not learn effectively with a Web-based method, the patients will ultimately suffer. Educating providers with technology that does not enhance the learning processes can result in poor patient outcomes and lead to patient morbidity and even death.
Before health care institutions even consider implementing global policies which affect the way they fund CME for their providers, they must consider all of the implications. This consideration includes assessing the differences between traditional medical education and Internet-based education to see what types of information can be effectively translated into Interact-based self-study modules. In addition, the attitudes of providers toward Internet-based education must also be investigated. This would ensure providers perceive it as a viable alternative that will meet their educational needs since attitudes and perceptions toward educational methods and instruction impact learning (Speier, Morris & Briggs, 2001). Tucker-Ladd (2000) notes that an attitude has three components: (a) cognitive or knowledge, (b) feeling or evaluative, and (c) behavioral where knowledge and feeling are put into action. …