Philadelphia, PA, May 22, 2015 – Today the President and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine sent the following e-mail to our diplomates.
There have been many things written and said about the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and its Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program over the last several months–much of it critical; a lot of it valid. Many diplomates have written to me to share their opinions about the organization and its policies and programs. I have read their comments and talked with countless physicians personally. Many who have been condemning ABIM's work and intentions are passionate, but some of the attacks have become increasingly personal.
I have given my entire professional life to internal medicine, and like all of you, I care deeply about doctors improving and maintaining our skills in order to enhance the quality of our patients' lives. I came to ABIM in 2013 after practicing internal medicine for nearly 30 years in my Philadelphia neighborhood. Like many internists, running my own practice created both opportunities and challenges. Taking care of friends, neighbors and colleagues was deeply gratifying, even as the familiar stresses of health information technology adoption and managing the business of practice weighed on me. As the first community practitioner to lead ABIM, I was and remain acutely aware of my responsibility to improve our program. I certainly never thought, during my 30 years in practice, that I would be portrayed in the manner in which some have now portrayed me.
In early March of this year, writer Kurt Eichenwald contacted ABIM staff for information about an “article” he was working on for Newsweek regarding the “controversy involving maintenance of certification at the ABIM.” He had specific program and finance questions. Staff provided answers to the program questions, and asked for more time to pull together information regarding the finances. We never received a response from him, and his article ran days later with considerable inaccurate information. Our answers to his questions were ignored. We contacted the editors at Newsweek and asked that the article be removed from its website because we believed that it contained serious errors. We offered to speak with any editor about the inaccuracies in the piece. We never received a response from the editors we contacted.
We did, however, hear back from Mr. Eichenwald, who clarified that his column was an “opinion piece” and that he was working on another piece about ABIM. He also began to tweet about ABIM and about me personally, and asked ABIM staff and others to send him “dirt” on the organization. His e-mails became increasingly shrill, including telling my staff they should be fired for incompetence. He also tweeted to me about his history of “taking down” organizations.
His first story, as well as his tone and demeanor, made it clear that he had already reached his conclusions, so we made the decision not to work with him. During the same period, I gave interviews to reporters from The New York Times, Politico, Medscape, Medical Economics, Marketplace and other news outlets. Some of the articles that resulted from those interviews were critical of ABIM, but we cooperated because the reporters acted professionally and in good faith.
I am still processing the myriad allegations in the most recent Newsweek piece. But I want to be very clear about correcting two of the most egregious and misleading charges that have been leveled against me and ABIM.
First, we have never made any effort to obfuscate, hide or delay ABIM's financial information. It's publicly available on our website. Second, no one is trying to hide salaries. I earned $688,000 in compensation in 2014 and $55,000 in deferred compensation (payment of which is contingent upon completion of my five-year contract). That is more than I ever made in 30 years of independent community practice of internal medicine and geriatrics, but it is set by my Board to be comparable to what CEOs of similar-sized health-related organizations earn.
All of these allegations take away from the work we must do together: to develop a meaningful way to know that we are keeping up in our profession and maintaining competence, and that we know what we need to know to do the high-stakes work we do every day. That is the process I am trying to lead. I have been sincere in sharing my belief that ABIM previously got it wrong, and that some aspects of the way MOC was implemented and some of the programs offered were unnecessarily burdensome and of low value to those completing them. We are now engaged in a continuing conversation with the broad community to get it right. Together, we can design and execute something of which all of us can be proud.
I send you my very best wishes for a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend spent with your family and friends (if you are lucky enough to have the weekend not on call) or exemplifying the best in medicine by being of service to your patients during a holiday weekend.
Richard J. Baron, MD, MACP
President and Chief Executive Officer
American Board of Internal Medicine