ASH Contends MOC Revision Process Falls Short

Tony Hagen @oncobiz
Published Online: Monday, Nov 09, 2015

David A. Williams, MD

David A. Williams, MD

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) said it is deeply unsatisfied with the findings of a task force that convened to review Maintenance of Certification (MOC) standards for the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).

In a letter to the president of ABIM this month, ASH President David A. Williams, MD, said that there is not enough stakeholder involvement in the process to develop a set of certification qualifications that are relevant in today’s healthcare marketplace. He argued that ABIM seems bent on trying to disqualify physicians rather than provide them with achievable, affordable means of keeping up their skills and knowledge in the workplace. Williams further contended that ABIM lacks sufficient transparency in its handling of affairs related to physician certification, particularly with respect to its reliance on certification fees to fund its operations.

“The current problems in MOC emerged from certifying boards that have no accountability to specialty societies or other outside organizations. The insular nature of ABIM governance needs to change, and the board needs to embrace transparency and accountability,” Williams wrote.

ABIM President Richard Baron, MD, said in response that ABIM fumbled in recent years when it upped the requirements for MOC, but that it has since sought to do things right by opening up the process to broad stakeholder input and by backtracking on some of the changes it instituted 2 years ago. He said ASH members have been a part of the proceedings lately and that ABIM leaders also went to ASH’s doorstep in August to hear what they had to say.

“We held an internal medicine summit a week ago, and ASH was there—the president and executive director of ASH. They were actively participating with us and 27 other internal medicine societies in trying to figure out the next steps.”

ASH’s criticisms follow the release in September of the Assessment 2020 Task Force’s report on how best to revamp the MOC. The extra time and money involved in maintaining certification has been a bone of contention for physicians in recent years. Before 1990, physicians passed their qualifying test and were certified for life. After 1990, ABIM made passage of a certifying test good for just 10 years, following which a fresh examination would have to be taken. In 2014, ABIM made it tougher by requiring physicians to rack up module training points at a faster pace. The ensuing protest led ABIM to put certain requirements on hold.

“Doctors felt the quotient of busy work to high value work wasn’t very high, and we agreed with them,” Baron said.

However, Baron contended the process of revising MOC requirements is not finished and has not been closed to outside contribution.

Richard Baron, MD

Richard Baron, MD

He said that ABIM is very interested in what stakeholders like the hematology community have to say about how to improve certification standards. Those groups know best what type of knowledge and skill are required for success in their professions, Baron said. “We need to talk to people practicing the discipline to get those answers. I think it’s reasonable for a group of hematologists to say that if you’re going to call yourself [a hematologist] there’s a minimum of core knowledge you need to have.”

The task force report calls for renovating the 10-year MOC exam so that it includes more meaningful assessments. It called for a focus on cognitive and technical skills, as well as an exploration of the need for certification in specialized areas, without the added requirement for underlying certifications.

In its point-by-point letter to Baron this month, ASH, whose membership includes most of the 8400 internists who hold hematology certificates issued by the ABIM, said it was not satisfied with the work of the task force and requested that ABIM reopen the process so that more stakeholder feedback could be incorporated. It called the suggested changes a move toward aggressive assessment of procedural skills, and also “unwarranted, unduly burdensome, and extremely costly.”

“ABIM continues to envision the MOC program as a way to police the quality of internists…However, the hematology community does not accept that the current MOC system has the ability to detect poor performance,” Williams said in his letter.


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