The professional group that represents anesthesiologists will become the first medical board to scrap a widely criticized test that most physicians take every
10 years to demonstrate that they are up to date in their specialties, officials said Wednesday.
Beginning next year, the American Board of Anesthesiology instead will offer its 50,000 “board-certified” members the opportunity to show their mastery — and brush up if they fall short — through weekly online quizzes that they can take at will, coupled with educational material.
The move may portend a broader shift in the way doctors prove that they are keeping up with developments in their specialties. The organization that represents pediatricians has signaled its interest in the new approach, and the president of the group that governs 200,000 internal-medicine physicians said in a statement that it is seeking alternatives.
Despite a pilot program conducted in recent months, the anesthesiology board has not assessed whether the new effort resulted in better patient care, said its secretary, James P. Rathmell. But the organization hopes the approach will improve care.
“This once-every-10-year test, it’s a good snapshot in time,” Rathmell said, but it didn’t help anesthesiologists learn continuously. Most crammed for the exams in the preceding weeks, he said.
About 800,000 physicians — 85 percent of the nation’s total — have received certification from one of the 24 boards that govern each medical specialty and sub-specialty, according to Lois Margaret Nora, president and chief executive of the American Board of Medical Specialties, the umbrella group for those panels.
The designation as a “diplomate” in pediatrics, dermatology or another specialty signals a level of expertise beyond the possession of a medical license, which is issued by each state. But hospitals, private practices and malpractice insurers are increasingly insisting that physicians be board certified to practice. Doctors also must take continuing-education courses.
About 300,000 of the 800,000 board-certified physicians have lifetime certification, but the rest must take the exams every 10 years. In its test of the program, the anesthesiology board has been sending weekly multiple-choice questions to its members, about half of whom do not have lifetime certification. They can answer at their leisure but must complete 30 per quarter. The passing score has not yet been set. The 10-year cost will be the same as taking the test — $2,100.
Salomon Imiak, an anesthesiologist and national medical director for Sheridan Healthcare in Sunrise, Fla., said that he likes the new approach.
“It’s extremely convenient,” Imiak said, “it’s less expensive [annually], it’s less stressful and it allows us to identify areas of lack of knowledge that we should improve.”