A conversation with Lighthouse Learning CEO Jon Leibowitz

Lighthouse Learning, a new, independent producer of continuing medical education (CME) may have made a bigger splash than it wanted last week on the front page of the Boston Globe. The author devoted much of the article to Lighthouse’s rejection of pharmaceutical industry funding, which got a bunch of folks in the industry riled up.

In my recent discussion with Lighthouse’s CEO, Jon Leibowitz, he clarified the company’s position on industry funding and presented a broader view of how the company plans to operate and differentiate itself. Excerpts from our interview are published below.

David Williams: What was the motivation to set up Lighthouse Learning?

Jon Leibowitz: We think there is an opportunity to do things differently; to create a fully independent provider of medical education for physicians. We span 12 specialty areas and focus on the needs of both specialists and generalists. We believe education can be shared between specialists and generalists to achieve an outcome of better communications and better delivery of care to patients.

Williams:    I haven’t heard so much about the generalists and specialists being educated together.  Is it an approach of one of your physician leaders or how did you come to that as a positioning?

Leibowitz:    Actually Dr. Martin Samuels is a keen believer in the need for breaking down the barriers and silos that exist between specialists and generalists.  He can cite many examples of how there could be much better efficiencies, more effective medicine if neurologists and primary care physicians were educated with similar approaches in terms of diagnosis and treatment and were able to work in greater sync with one another.

Williams: You have decided not to seek pharma industry funding. But do you believe it is possible for industry-funded CME companies to be pristine, assuming they follow the various guidelines that are in place?

Leibowitz: The ACCME has put together very strong standards and guidelines for organizations that work with industry and receive commercial support. Those standards begin at the planning stage with identification of needs and creation of education. They continue all the way through the process, including conducting outcomes studies to assess the impact of the education on physician knowledge, competency and performance.

I believe that organizations that follow the guidelines in practice and in spirit can develop very high quality continuing medical education for learners.

Williams: You are planning to be in 12 different areas, but are there specific areas of focus at the outset?

Leibowitz: Our curriculum development model begins with our 12 curriculum directors, each of whom oversees the development of curricula within the respective specialty areas. So we are not approaching this in a linear fashion at all but instead pursuing a pretty aggressive build-out simultaneously across the 12 specialty areas.

Williams:    What activities will the company undertake?

Leibowitz:    We develop content.  We do not put on meetings and we’re not going to become a publishing company.  Our business requires that we partner with organizations that license our content and provide the distribution means to the physician learner.  Our model is platform independent, thus allowing us to partner with organizations that put on live meetings, with established health care and medical websites that reach out to physicians, and publishers who also access the same marketplace.
Williams:    Who will your customers be?
Leibowitz:    At this point our efforts are  targeted at the sale of curricula to medical societies, insurance companies, professional meetings companies, health care organizations and other entities that seek to provide educational content. It’s difficult however at this point to anticipate how each of these categories will play out in terms of prominence going forward.

Williams:    Considering what you said earlier –that it is possible for industry-funded players to produce high quality CME–do you anticipate having industry support at some point down the line even if that’s not your initial focus?
Leibowitz:    We will not have any direct ties to industry down the line.  We believe this is one of the important differentiating factors for Lighthouse Learning.

Williams:    How is the CME market changing?  Certainly there has been a substantial reduction in industry support for CME over the last several years.  Do you see a shift going on in the marketplace?  How does Lighthouse fit in?

Leibowitz:    Our perspective is that the demand side of the picture hasn’t changed one bit.  States continue to maintain their same requirements in connection with number of hours required of physicians for continuing medical education.  We believe that based on that continued and level demand, there is an opportunity for multiple approaches to CME, whether supported by industry or not.

I do believe, however, that all stakeholders in this equation: physician learners, pharmaceutical grant committees, engaged faculty, all have greater expectations for quality of content and desire a very clear separation between content and any sort of commercial influence.

Williams:    How is the company financed?

Leibowitz:  It’s a bootstrap approach with a lot of self funding by the founders.

Williams: What else would you like to share?

Leibowitz:    We believe what sets us apart are our independence, the quality of our physician leadership, and a unique approach to educate specialists together with generalists, with the ultimate outcome of better communication, great effectiveness, and better patient care.

September 24, 2010

One thought on “A conversation with Lighthouse Learning CEO Jon Leibowitz”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *