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Clinical Education
Needs Assessment (NA)

The foundation of a CME activity is 'evidence-based education'. Conducting a Needs Assessment will lead your organization to collect evidence, analyze the data, and decide upon a course of action.

While conducting a Needs Assessment is recommended, it is important to note that the ACCME does not require a formal needs assessment. You are required to "incorporate into CME activities the educational needs that underlie the professional practice gaps" [C2] (which the Academy ensures by reviewing your Gap Analysis), "use a planning process that links identified educational needs with desired results" (which the Academy ensures by reviewing your Instructional System Design [ISD]), and "use needs assessment data" [E2.2] (which is nothing more than the identification of gaps, barriers, and resources). A formal Needs Assessment is only required when applying for educational grants.

Many CME planners have used surveys, "expert" opinion, and literature reviews as a primary method of gathering needs-assessment data. The needs-assessment data that have been collected in this way will be minimally useful in helping CME planners identify and address the learning needs of physicians. - Dr. Donald E. Moore

The tools, examples, and resources below are designed to avoid the shortcomings described by Dr. Moore. By conducting a proper Needs Assessment, you will address or support 9 of the 22 ACCME Updated Criteria and 3 of 7 Essential Elements.

Definitions related to Needs Assessment
  • Assessment: A comparative evaluation of, gaps, needs, barriers and resources.
  • Gaps / Practice gap: The difference between a current state and desired state. Gaps are typically expressed in terms of normative data.
  • Gap analysis (GA): The methods used to collect a Gap and an interpretation of the information.
  • Needs: 1) contributing factors to the formation of a Gap. 2) The knowledge or skills that must be remedied to help close a practice gap.
  • Needs Assessment (NA): 1) The process of identifying and measuring areas for improvement in a target audience, and determining the methods to achieve improvement. 2) A narrative document detailing the linkages between gaps, barriers, and resources.
  • Target Audience: The intended recipients of an educational activity.
  • Wants: Possible solutions proposed to close a gap by targeting a need.
Needs Assessments from other activities

The following Needs Assessments have been used in the planning of CME activities. Each example below was was deemed suitable for grant support from a commercial interest.

Tips and Recommendations
  • Link the subject to the environment where a learner will encounter the gap
  • Create an "educational linkage" from the discovery of the problem, through the education, to the expected outcomes.
  • Quantify the information being presented
  • Avoid generalities
  • Provide backup for claims and statements
  • Try not to state more than you prove
  • If possible, provide outcomes information from previous, similar, activities
  • Draw connections - a Needs Assessment is a narative document
  • Consider options, even if you do not have the resources to address some needs or gaps, it is worth listing them
Data sources - Academy research

The following information is garnered from internal research by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  • Diagnose This Review: Summer, 2011. Gaps uncovered via online diagnosis simulation, reviewed for validity and contributing needs.
    • Evidence in:
      • Contact lens fitting and management of related complications.
      • Diagnostic evaluation of white retinal lesions.
      • Management of orbital lymphangioma.
      • Differentiation of abnormal and normal gonioscopic findings.
      • Differentiation of microbiologic studies.