I ask my readers to indulge me as I provide some background about the strongman tactics used by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) to protect their board certification monopoly.
It started with a press release sent by the ABIM dated 9 June 2010, resulting in a story by Katherine Hobson making national headlines in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Medical Board Says MDs Cheated." Ms. Hobson also cross-posted her story on the Wall Street Journal's Health Care blog which she helped moderate at the time.
With this article, the public learned that five physicians, Monica Mukherjee of Washington, D.C.; Anastassia Todor of Aurora, CO.; Pedam Salehi of Los Angeles, CA; Sarah Von Muller of Tulsa, OK and Frederick Oni of Warner Robins, GA were sued by the ABIM "for what it deemed were ethical breaches involving the disclosure of test questions—which aren't supposed to be repeated, copied or reproduced." Another 134 physicians were "sanctioned" by having their Board certification revoked for at least a year, and thousands more were sent "letters of reprimand." Labeled as an "unprecedented action," the sanctions were "immediate" and resulted in the revocation of these physicians' Board certification for at least a year or more without trial. Hiding behind the legalistic "Pledge of Honesty" that physicians have no choice but to sign when they enroll in the ABIM certification program, Dr. Christine Cassel, president and chief executive of the ABIM at the time, called the sanctions "a message and a deterrent."
It's was also an unprecedented strongman tactic by a self-appointed and unaccountable non-profit corporation. Should the entire unaccountable American Board of Medical Specialties and their 24-member boards be allowed to intimidate, threaten, and professionally destroy physicians to protect their financial stranglehold on their own version of professional certification?
To those in their isolated executive perches, it seems they feel they can. And so, the story does not end there.
Using undisclosed methods and personnel, it seems the ABIM traced emails from a computer seized from Arora Board Review to a physician in Puerto Rico four years later. In a letter dated May 8, 2012, from Ms. Lynn Landon, Chief Operating Officer of the ABIM, Jaime Antonio Salas-Rushford, MD, was accused of sharing board review questions with the Arora Board Review course. On the sidebar of that letter were other names: Chair Catherine R Lucey, MD, Chair-Elect Robert M Wachter, MD, Secretary-Treasurer Talmadge E King, MD, President and CEO Christine Cassel, MD, Chief Information Officer John K Davis II, MBA, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Eric S. Holmboe, MD among others. With only 10 days notice, the ABIM imposed its harshest penalty: to "indefinitely revoke" Dr. Salas Rushford's Board certification and "notify the Medical Board in every jurisdiction you are licensed." The ABIM then sued Dr. Salas-Rushford for alleged Copyright infringement.
What the ABIM had not anticipated is that Dr. Salas-Rushford's parents are lawyers and they countersued the ABIM. Currently, the case has moved from Puerto Rico back to New Jersey and continues in its discovery phase. Lawyers from one of the largest law firms in Philadelphia, Ballard Spahr LLP, are representing the ABIM - all paid for by millions of dollars of practicing physician testing fees.
As you can imagine, the legal fees for Dr. Salas-Rushford's defense are significant. Last evening, a website (doctorsjustice.com) went live to help crowdsource Dr. Salas-Rushford's legal costs. The website contains more about Dr. Salas-Rushford and copies of documents important to his case (including the Langdon letter and the ABIM's final sanction determination). I encourage everyone to review his information carefully.
Given what we know about the ABIM's recent actions, the secret funneling of funds from the ABIM to the ABIM Foundation from 1989 to 1999 to define their version of "medical professionalism," the use of physician testing fees for luxury condominium purchases, the concerning undisclosed conflicts of interest within the leadership of the ABIM (see here and here), the revolving-door collusion between CMS and the National Quality Forum, the undisclosed political lobbying of this tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, their strongman tactics, and their propensity to advertise their self-determined sanctions to mainstream media before due process, it is time practicing physicians demand justice and a full investigation into the ABIM's methods of securing their lucrative physician "quality cartel."
Dr. Salas-Rushford's suit against the ABIM promises to shine a very bright light on the practices of the ABIM whether his case is upheld or not. For that reason, I encourage all practicing physicians, irrespective of specialty, to donate in whatever way you can - $5 or $500 - to his legal fund. You can also help by sharing his website and encouraging others to do the same.
It's time for practicing physicians everywhere to hold the ABIM accountable.