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Doctors who pass a periodic assessment of medical knowledge to maintain ABIM board certification have fewer state medical board disciplinary actions

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New research indicates that Maintenance of Certification (MOC) can be an important factor for patients making choices about doctors.

Philadelphia, PA, March 7, 2018 – Doctors who practice internal medicine and pass a knowledge assessment to maintain board certification within 10 years of their initial certification are more than two times less likely to face state medical board disciplinary actions than those who do not pass the exam.

These findings about Maintenance of Certification (MOC), recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, build on previous research that found physicians who pass initial certification exams administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) after medical training are five times less likely to face disciplinary actions than doctors who do not become board certified.

ABIM data indicates that a vast majority of internists pass the certification exam after training and periodic MOC exams through their careers. Even more ultimately pass on subsequent attempts. To explore whether there is an association between MOC exam performance and risk of disciplinary actions from state medical boards, ABIM researchers studied MOC exam results and any reported disciplinary actions for nearly 48,000 general internists who initially certified between 1990 and 2003.

About 2 percent of the population—949 physicians—were disciplined during the study period. Research findings showed that:

  • The risk of disciplinary action against physicians declines as scores on the MOC exam increase, indicating that more medical knowledge is associated with fewer disciplinary actions.
  • The percentage of total disciplinary actions in this population that can be attributed to not having passed the Internal Medicine MOC exam is 35 percent.
  • Poor exam performance is associated with more severe disciplinary actions.
  • There was no difference in disciplinary rates associated with the amount of Continuing Medical Education (CME) required for state medical licensure, suggesting that completing CME alone in the amounts required for state licensure does not reduce the risk of disciplinary actions.
  • Researchers estimated that the number of patients potentially cared for by physicians with disciplinary actions could total hundreds of thousands to a few million.

“These findings have significant implications for a vast number of patients seeking safe, quality care from general internists,” said Dr. Furman S. McDonald, Senior Vice President of Academic and Medical Affairs at ABIM and the lead author of the study. “Though most internists will never face disciplinary actions, the study revealed an important association between medical knowledge as demonstrated on the MOC exam and lower risk of disciplinary actions. This adds to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that MOC is an important factor that can inform the public's choice of physicians.”

Additional Information

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.

Learn more about the ABIM MOC program, which includes independent assessment options and continuous learning activities that doctors can complete to stay current with medical knowledge.

For media inquiries, contact Erin Frantz at press@abim.org.

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.