As a member of a professional organization embroiled in this controversy it has give me a front row seat to the problems with physician regulation and how things are never quite what they seem to be. From the outset there was scant evidence that recertification exams were necessary and with the exams no evidence that I am aware of that they have accomplished anything. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) actually has a page on their web site devoted to what evidence exists and I encourage anyone to go there and find any scientific evidence that supports current MOC much less the approaching freight train of Maintenance of Licensure or linking MOC to annual relicensing by state medical boards. Feel free to add that evidence to the comments section for this post.
Prior to this idea there were several specialty organizations that had their own programs consisting of educational materials that were self study courses that could be completed on specific topics relevant to the specialist every year. A formal proctored examination and all of the examination fees that involves was not necessary. The course topics were developed by consensus of the specialists in the field. A couple of years ago I watched a CME course presentation by a member of the ABMS who pointed out that three specialty boards (of a total of 24) wanted to continue to use this method for relicensing and recertification. They were denied that ability to do that because the ABMS has a rule that all of the Boards have to use the same procedure that the majority vote on. The problem was that very few of the physicians regulated by these Boards were aware of the options or even the fact that there would be a move by the ABMS for a complicated recertification scheme and that they would also eventually push for it to become part of relicensing in many states.
If the ABMS is really interested in evidence based practice, the options to me are very clear. They currently have no proof that their recertification process is much more than a public relations initiative. Here is my proposal. Do an experiment where one half of the specialists to be examined that year complete a self study course in the relevant topics for that year. That can be designated the experimental group. The other half of the specialists receive no intervention other than self study on their own for whatever they think might be relevant. Test them all on the topics selected for the self study group and then compare their test scores. See who does better on the test. Secondary endpoints could be developed to review the practices of each group and determine whether there are any substantial differences on secondary measures that are thought to be relevant in the tested areas.
Until this straightforward experiment is done, the current plan and policies of the ABMS are all speculative and appear to be based upon what has been called conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom appears to be right because all of the contrary evidence is ignored. There is no scientific basis for conventional wisdom and it falls apart under scrutiny. Physicians in America are currently the most overregulated workers in the world. The rationale for these regulations is frequently based on needing to weed out the few who are incompetent, unethical, or physically or mentally unable to practice medicine. Many regulatory authorities grapple with that task and maintaining the public safety. In many cases it is a delicate balance. But we are far past the point that every physician in the country should be overregulated and overtaxed based on conventional wisdom because regulatory bodies are uncomfortable about their ability to identify or discipline the few. If the ABMS or any other medical authority wants evidence based safeguards for the public based on examination performance – it is time to run the experiment and stop running a public relations campaign to support the speculative ideas of a few.George Dawson, MD, DFAPA