Your doctor has some qualification. Your doctor graduated from medical school, probably. Your doctor has some training after medical school, probably. But what about after that?
There are several things to consider here:
- Does your doctor still possess the specialty skills for which she was originally certified?
- How would you know?
- Should you care?
- How up-to-date is your doctor’s skill or knowledge?
Almost every medical board in the US requires some “continuing education.” Historically this was the chance for a physician to go off to a resort and drink and hang out with old friends and colleagues while his/her spouse wandered around the resort or town and squandered money. It was just something you did because the state medical board said you had to.
Now the certification boards have gotten in on the action. The American Board of Medical Specialties
works in collaboration with 24 specialty Member Boards to maintain the standards for physician certification. Our focus is on improving the quality of health care to patients, families, and communities by supporting the continuous professional development of physician specialists. We achieve our mission as an organization by helping physicians achieve their potential as providers of quality health care.
The ABMS website further notes:
ABMS Mission Statement
The mission of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is to serve the public and the medical profession by improving the quality of health care through setting professional standards for lifelong certification in partnership with Member Boards.
Higher Standards Drive Lifelong Assessment and Learning
For more than 80 years, we’ve evolved the standards for medical specialty practice and certification to support advancements in medicine, science, and technology. As a community of learners and leaders, we periodically evaluate and update our professional and educational standards to reflect the changes in medical specialty practice and health care delivery processes.
Physicians meet these standards in order to become Board Certified. Maintaining the following competencies keeps their certification active throughout their career and forms the foundation of the ABMS Program for Maintenance of Certification (ABMS MOC®):
- Patient care and procedural skills
- Medical knowledge
- Practice-based learning
- Interpersonal and communication skills
- Systems-based resources
The standards guiding the ABMS Program for MOC are patient-centric with a greater emphasis on professionalism, patient safety, and performance improvement. They help physicians become active participants in the evaluation of their own practices. Physicians can see how their practice compares to those of their peers, how it differs from published best practices, and how their own practice evolves over time, progressing toward the ideal practice.
The standards also include guidelines which help the ABMS boards select learning programs and improvement activities, create assessment and evaluation systems, and pioneer effective new pathways for physicians to learn the latest innovations in their specialty.
Lifelong Assessment and Learning Inspires Quality Improvement
Quality improvement is vitally important to our nation’s health care. Patients place an unprecedented level of trust in their physicians. They expect that the certifications held by their physicians represent a current demonstration of their knowledge and skills. The ongoing process of MOC assures that level of quality and trust.
The ABMS Program for MOC has grown to respond to the needs of patients by tapping into and extending the deep reservoir of duty and compassion of our physician specialists. Both patients and the profession benefit as the MOC competencies become deep-rooted into medical practices as well as our nation’s educational, accrediting and certifying activities.
All that sounds pretty good. In fact how could any reasonable physician argue with something like “improving the quality of health care.” But lately physicians have begun pushing back against “re-certification” programs. One physician resented re-certification so much that he invented a certification board and certified himself! You know him as Senator Rand Paul (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). His “certification” is 100% bogus. His “certification” board appears, at this time to be 100% non-existent.
But the boards (all of the ABMS member boards) are in trouble. They need to find a reason for their existence. If we look at just Internal Medicine (ABIM). The exact number of graduates of American IM residencies who pass the ABIM certification exam is not widely distributed information. But generally the 5-year “conversion rate” to certification is in excess of 95%. (First-time taker pass rate here. Program pass rates generally exceed exceed 90% and almost universally exceed 80%.) The real question is if “Certification by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) has stood for the highest standard in internal medicine and its 20 subspecialties” How can pass rates be that high? Seriously- Navy SEAL training has an 80% attrition rate. The navy can recruit from the very best fighters from the navy and marines and still there’s an 80% attrition. Internal medicine residencies draw from American and international grads (some of whom barely speak and understand English) and 80% pass the exam! How does an 80% pass rate comport with a claim of “the highest standard?” In fact, ABIM barely establishes a minimum acceptable command of basic medical knowledge.
Bearing that in mind, why would anyone care about re-certification? Let’s turn this around. Since certification really sets a minimum standard (yes these physicians are limbo-ing under the bar of “minimal knowledge”) then certification only matters if a physician does not have it.
No, you should not trust your health to any physician who cannot pass his/her certification exam. It does not matter why he/she can’t pass. That physician has not demonstrated a minimal command of basic knowledge.
Soon, we’ll look at the myriad reasons, almost all vacuous, why physicians don’t want to re-certify.