ABIM: Self-paced maintenance of certification pathway under development


Physician groups are praising a new option by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) that will offer doctors a self-paced pathway for maintenance of certification (MOC) in place of the traditional long-form assessment route.

Dr. Richard J. Baron, ABIM president

Dr. Richard J. Baron

The new longitudinal assessment option, announced in late August, would enable physicians to acquire and demonstrate ongoing knowledge through shorter evaluations of specific content. The option, currently under development, also would provide doctors with immediate feedback about their answers and share links to educational material to address knowledge gaps, according to an announcement. While details are still being fleshed out, a summary of the longitudinal assessment concept by the American Board of Medical Specialties explains that the approach draws on the principles of adult learning and modern technology “to promote learning, retention, and transfer of information.”

Developing a longitudinal assessment option is part of ABIM’s ongoing evolution, Marianne M. Green, MD, chair for ABIM’s board of directors and ABIM President Richard J. Baron, MD, wrote in a joint letter to internists posted on ABIM’s blog.

“We recognize that some physicians may prefer a more continuous process that easily integrates into their lives and allows them to engage seamlessly at their preferred pace, while being able to access the resources they use in practice,” the doctors wrote.

“Until recently, AGA [American Gastroenterological Association], along with AASLD [American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases], ACG [American College of Gastroenterology], and ASGE [American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy], had been working on a new recertification pathway for GI. That effort has been temporarily suspended as ABIM pursues a pathway that will be available to all internal medicine specialties,” said Hashem El Serag, MD, MPH, AGAF, AGA president. “AGA appreciates that ABIM’s new longitudinal pathway appears to conform to the principles that the GI societies have espoused. We will monitor the development of the pathway as it moves toward implementation continuing to advocate for the needs of gastroenterologists.”

These GI societies are guided by these core principles in their campaign to reform MOC:

• MOC needs to be simpler, less intrusive, and less expensive.

• We continue to support alternatives to the high-stakes, every-10-year recertification exam.

• We do not support single-source or time-limited assessments, as they do not represent the current realities of medicine in the digital age.

• We support the concept that, for the many diplomates who specialize within certain areas of gastroenterology and hepatology, MOC should not include high-stakes assessments of areas in which the diplomate may not practice.

• We support the principles of lifelong learning, as evidenced by ongoing CME activities, rather than lifelong testing.

Douglas DeLong, MD, chair of the American College of Physician’s (ACP) board of regents said the option is a positive, first step that will support lifelong learning. He noted the new option is in line with recommendations released in 2019 by the American Board of Medical Specialties’ Continuing Board Certification: Vision for the Future Commission, which included ACP concerns.

“It’s pretty clear that some of the principles of adult learning – frequent information with quick feedback, repetition of material, and identifying gaps in knowledge – is really how people most effectively learn,” Dr. DeLong said in an interview. “Just cramming for an examination every decade hasn’t ever really been shown to affect long-term retention of knowledge or even patient care outcomes.”

Alan Lichtin, MD, chair of the MOC working group for the American Society of Hematology (ASH), said the self-paced pathway is a much-needed option, particularly the immediate feedback on test questions.

“For years, ASH has been advocating that ABIM move from the traditional sit-down testing to an alternative form of ‘formative’ assessment that has been adapted by other specialty boards,” Dr. Lichtin said in an interview. Anesthesiology and pediatrics have novel testing methods that fit into physicians’ schedules without being so disruptive and anxiety provoking. There is instantaneous feedback about whether the answers are correct or not. It is not useful to study hard for a time-intensive, comprehensive test only to get a summary of what was missed a long time after the test. By that point, the exam material is no longer fresh in one’s mind and therefore the feedback is no longer useful.”

The new pathway is still under development, and ABIM has not said when the option might be launched. In the meantime, the current MOC program and its traditional exam will remain in effect. The ABIM is requesting feedback and comments from physicians about the option. Dr. Baron wrote that more information about the change will be forthcoming in the months ahead.

The ABIM announcement comes on the heels of several ongoing legal challenges levied at the board by a group of internists over its MOC process.

A lawsuit, filed Dec. 6, 2018, in Pennsylvania district court and later amended in 2019, claims that ABIM is charging inflated monopoly prices for maintaining certification, that the organization is forcing physicians to purchase MOC, and that ABIM is inducing employers and others to require ABIM certification. The four plaintiff-physicians are asking a judge to find ABIM in violation of federal antitrust law and to bar the board from continuing its MOC process. The suit is filed as a class action on behalf of all internists and subspecialists required by ABIM to purchase MOC to maintain their ABIM certifications.

On Sept. 26, U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Robert F. Kelly Sr. said the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate sufficient evidence for their antitrust and unjust enrichment claims against ABIM. The judge ruled that the doctors also did not establish any showing of anticompetitive conduct by ABIM to support a monopolization claim.

Physicians in three other lawsuits are also suing medical boards over their respective MOC processes. In February 2019, a radiologist issued a legal challenge against the American Board of Radiology over its MOC regulations. Also in February, two emergency physicians and an anesthesiologist filed a lawsuit against the American Board of Medical Specialties, the American Board of Emergency Medicine, and the American Board of Anesthesiology over MOC requirements. A month later, two psychiatrists issued a legal challenge against the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology over its MOC process.

Attorneys for all three boards in the ABIM, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and American Board of Radiology cases are seeking to dismiss the complaints. Judges have not yet ruled on the motions. In addition, a motion to consolidate all the cases was denied by the court.

A GoFundMe campaign launched by the Practicing Physicians of America to pay for plaintiffs’ costs associated with the class-action lawsuits has now garnered more than $300,000.

This story was updated on October 1, 2019.

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