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Docs Slam Recertification Rules

New requirements called ‘waste of time’

Many specialists are balking at what they say are onerous new rules to get recertified, warning that the demands will force some physicians out of practice at a time when the nation faces a shortage.

Doctors say the new requirements have made maintaining specialty certifications a process that never ends. Younger doctors already retake the arduous certification exam every 7 to 10 years to keep their credentials, long considered the gold standard of expertise. But physicians of all ages must now complete a complex set of requirements every 2 to 3 years or risk losing their certification.

Supporters contend the new process will ensure that doctors incorporate the latest medical advances into their practices, but many critics dismiss it as meaningless, expensive, and a waste of time.

More than 16,000 doctors have signed an online petition urging medical specialty boards to do away with the new requirements. Some older physicians — who were once board-certified for life and exempted from the periodic exams — warn they may simply retire.

The conflict comes at a time when the credentials are increasingly relied upon as a quality indicator. Many consumers check a physician’s board status before making appointments, and some medical centers and insurers require the maintenance of certification for doctors seeking hospital privileges or entry onto their health insurance panels.

Since its origins in 1933, board certification has always been voluntary rather than a condition of licensure. Most medical specialties granted certification for life until the 1980s; physicians took the exams only once after completing their training.

Over time, most of the 24 specialty boards started requiring recertification every 7 or 10 years. In 2000, they adopted additional requirements. Earlier this year, those standards became even tougher for internal medicine and many other specialties with the transition to continuous maintenance of certification activities. This is in addition to fulfilling state licensing boards’ requirements for obtaining continuing medical education credits.

Physicians may be asked to review patient charts to see how many of their diabetic patients are getting recommended eye exams or how many female patients had a mammogram recently. Or they may be required to have their patients fill out questionnaires, or to survey fellow physicians.

The efforts are time-consuming and have earned the wrath of some doctors, who say they have not been shown to improve practice.

Physicians also complain about the cost of maintaining the credential, which is about $2,000 every 10 years, not to mention the additional costs of test preparation courses, materials, and travel expenses, as well as the cost of having to close their practices when they take the test.

Of greatest concern to physicians is that state medical boards might incorporate the new rules into licensure requirements.

But Dr. Humayun Chaudhry, chief executive officer of the Federation of State Medical Boards, insists that board certification will continue to be voluntary and not a condition of licensing.

“Why in the world would you unlicense 200,000 physicians when there is a shortage of physicians and difficulty with access to care?” he said. “It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not something we have a plan for.”

Still, those who are not board-certified or are not renewing their certification would likely have to prove they are doing other things to stay current in their fields to maintain their licenses.

Roughly 200,000 of the nation’s 878,000 medical doctors and osteopaths are not board-certified and never have been.

Source: Kaiser Health News; July 21, 2014.

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