Physician licenses are issued by state medical agencies. That's not the same with specialty boards, which used to test doctors once and granted certification for life.Sadly, board certification is a straw dog for exceptional clinical competency. It has been devalued by the lack of enforcement of the meaning of "board certification." Even the American Board of Internal Medicine who receives large sums of money from physicians and creates the instructional material and tests admits to the sad fact there are still guys out there you can pay $500 to to get a "certificate" to hang on your "board" so you can call yourself "board certified."
In recent years, these groups have changed their policies and now require physicians to be tested every six to 10 years. But many older physicians are grandfathered in and don't have to update their qualifications.
Those doctors say they stay current by reading medical journals and taking continuing-education courses that are required for their state licenses.
Plus, board recertification can require travel to Chicago or Atlanta and cost $3,000 to $4,000 for the test.
"I think the initial reaction from a lot of people is, 'This is a bunch of crap; I did all my work in medical school. Why do I have to do it now?'" said Dr. William Cotton, a Columbus pediatrician.
But constant changes in medicine can quickly make what a doctor learned in school outdated, he said.
Cotton, who graduated from medical school in 1981, was grandfathered in in his specialty but decided this year to recertify to stay current.
Who cares about up-to-date certifications beyond savvy patients? Health insurers and hospitals. Starting next year, doctors who are recertified might be paid more by Medicare under federal health-care reform.
"There needs to be accountability in showing that they are, in fact, a specialist and are up to date on changes in their medical profession," said Kelly McGivern, president of the Ohio Association of Health Plans.
By permitting the board certification process to become devalued and merely a means to justify full payment from insurers and hospitals, the American Board of Internal Medicine has officially acknowledged that they are now serving new masters. Because of this, we now understand why the board certification has become a complicated floor of minimalist competencies rather than the pinnacle of one's professional achievement.
And it's one incredibly expensive floor that will now cost you even more dearly if you don't renew.