Doctors protest grueling certification standards

Dive Brief:

  • Physicians across the U.S. are fighting new specialty recertification requirements that critics assert are so onerous they will force some doctors out of practice. If doctors don't retain their certification, they may lose hospital privileges.
  • In all, 16,000-plus physicians have signed an online petition urging medical specialty boards to eliminate the new requirements. Some older physicians, who were once board certified for life and exempted from periodic exams, warn that they may simply retire.
  • Board certification, which began in 1933, is a voluntary process and not a condition of licensure: about 200,000 of 878,000 medical doctors and osteopaths in the U.S. are not board certified.

Dive Insight:

The conflict has arisen even as physician credentials are increasingly relied upon as a quality indicator. Many consumers want board-certified physicians, and some hospitals and insurers require MOC for doctors seeking hospital privileges or acceptance into provider networks. Proponents insist the new process will ensure that physicians incorporate the latest medical advances into practices, but critics dismiss it as expensive and a waste of time.

Until 20-some years ago, most medical specialties granted certification for life. Gradually, most of the 24 physician specialty boards began requiring recertification every seven or 10 years; in 2000, they adopted additional requirements. Earlier in 2014, standards became even tougher for internal medicine and other specialties with the transition to continuous MOC activities. In addition, physicians must complete state licensing boards' requirements for continuing medical education.

The American College of Physicians is up in arms, calling the American Board of Internal Medicine's MOC program its "number one priority." ACP said ABIM intends to make initial changes to certification in response to practitioners' concerns. These include a one-year "grace period" for internists who don't pass the MOC exam, and less data collection for the practice-assessment requirement.

ACP said it anticipates more changes to the MOC process down the road. Others are not as immersed in details, but defend the broad need for certification.

"Right now, for better or for worse, board certification is one of the best quality indicators we have," Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, an employer-based coalition seeking improvement in healthcare quality and safety, told Kaiser Health News. Doctors seeking to improve the certification process should appeal to their specialty boards, she said, "but you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater." 

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