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Doctors Studying for ABFM/ABIM MOC Exams See Direct Benefits

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New research shows physicians said they gained relevant knowledge while preparing for the Maintenance of Certification (MOC) exam.

Philadelphia, PA, July 17, 2019 – Most physicians who studied for the Maintenance of Certification (MOC) exam of the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) and American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) reported that they gained knowledge in the process of preparing for the exam that was both relevant and beneficial to their practice.

A new study, entitled “’That Was Pretty Powerful': a Qualitative Study of What Physicians Learn When Preparing for Their Maintenance-of-Certification Exams” published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, provides a qualitative analysis of physicians' accounts of their learning experiences while preparing for the MOC exam.

The study, conducted jointly by ABIM and ABFM, found that most doctors interviewed said they gained relevant knowledge through the process of studying for the exam, which could affect their practice in various ways, including direct changes to patient care—such as improved diagnosis or prescribing, or less unnecessary testing—or changes that were less direct—such as improved communication with patients and colleagues or enhanced ability to co-manage patients with subspecialists. Physicians also described sharing what they learned with others, including peers and trainees, extending the benefits to the medical community around them.

“Previous studies that looked at the impact of MOC on patient care found concrete ways that MOC has improved care, but those studies couldn't speak to what actually created those improvements,” said lead author Benjamin Chesluk, PhD, Senior Researcher for Ethnographic Research at ABIM.

“This study helps to fill in those gaps. Most of the physicians we interviewed could draw a direct line between information they had reviewed while preparing for the MOC exam and what they themselves saw as concrete, positive changes to their practice. This could come from learning new facts they could apply in practice, but also a more general sense of understanding the basic science behind those facts, being able to communicate about them more effectively with patients or other physicians, or even potentially feeling that what they learned while studying for the MOC exam had expanded the scope of care they can offer as primary care physicians,” said Dr. Chesluk.

About the study

Doctors participate in the MOC program after earning their initial board certification as a way to know that they are staying current in the medical knowledge they use to treat patients and make important care decisions daily. This includes engaging in regular learning activities and passing periodic assessments. Researchers interviewed 80 primary care physicians–40 from ABFM and 40 from ABIM—who had recently taken such an assessment.

“We selected this group because they represent the largest body of primary care physicians in the U.S.,” the authors wrote. There are collectively nearly 300,000 ABIM and ABFM Board Certified physicians. This sample was selected to represent a range of experiences with MOC exams and opinions about the exam, as well as diversity of participant backgrounds such as gender, practice type, etc.

The objective was to understand what physicians do to prepare for MOC exams and how this can affect knowledge and practice. Another article, focusing on how physicians prepared and how MOC exam preparation differs from what they normally did to stay current, has just been published in the journal Academic Medicine.

Of the 80 physicians interviewed, 67 said they gained knowledge relevant to their practice, and 63 provided concrete examples of how the process of studying for the MOC exam positively impacted their practice.

One physician interviewed said, “I learned…that I practice a lot of defensive medicine. You do it because the patients want you to, but it's not really clinically appropriate or it's not according to the guidelines. So now, I learned to talk to patients more... about the risks, the complications...”

Another interviewee, who cares for a largely indigent patient panel, said, “I could probably reduce, significantly, the number of visits to the consultant… Having more in-depth understanding of diseases and theoretical knowledge helps me to reduce [subspecialist] visits and reduce the financial burden on [indigent] patients.”

View the research article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. (Subscription may be required to access the full article.)

Read more research from ABIM and other organizations about board certification, MOC and physician assessment.

ABIM Board Certified Doctors Make a Difference
Internists and subspecialists who earn and maintain board certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) differentiate themselves every day through their specialized knowledge and commitment to continual learning in service of their patients. Established as an independent nonprofit more than 80 years ago, ABIM continues to be driven by doctors who want to achieve higher standards for better care in a rapidly changing world. Visit ABIM's blog to learn more and follow ABIM on Facebook and Twitter. ABIM is a member of the American Board of Medical Specialties.