Group Seeks to End Recertification Mandate for Doctors

Andrew Kitchenman | April 26, 2013 | Health Care
Federal lawsuit aims to end expensive, time-consuming process required for hospital staff physicians

A lawsuit lawsuit filed in Trenton this week is seeking to end the requirement that doctors be recertified by professional specialty boards to serve on hospital staffs.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons also asks that the American Board of Medical Specialties repay doctors for the cost of recertification.

Under recertification, doctors must complete a series of requirements, including a medical test, and pay fees to one of the 24 specialist boards that are members of the ABMS.

Recertification, also known as maintenance of certification, is usually done every 10 years. Recertification requirements have grown since the current system was established in 2000. Since then, recertification has become tied to whether doctors can maintain their licenses and serve at hospitals.

Opponents of the process have expressed concern that it is costly and time-consuming. The lawsuit alleges that the time spent by doctors seeking recertification cuts into the time they can spend with patients.

“There’s a lack of evidence for any benefit from this recertification,” said Andrew L. Schlafly, a Far Hills attorney and the counsel for the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, which a national organization opposed to government intervention in healthcare. The lawsuit asks that the ABMS be ordered to stop seeking agreements with hospitals and state medical boards that require recertification and to declare existing agreements null and void.

Board officials rejected the claims in the lawsuit, citing a series of studies that have found benefits from recertification.

“We strongly dispute the claims made by AAPS,” board spokeswoman Karen Metropulos wrote in an email, adding that the organization stands by recertification “as an important voluntary program of lifelong learning, self-assessment and quality improvement that offers value to both physicians and their patients.”

The lawsuit cites the experience of an anonymous New Jersey doctor, identified only as “J.E.” The doctor was forced to leave the staff of Somerset Medical Center after 29 years because he wouldn’t comply with recertification, according to the lawsuit.

Schlafly said the doctor wasn’t identified due to concerns over potential retribution.

“Anytime anyone challenges hundreds of millions of dollars like this, they’re going to go negative,” Schlafly said.

While a major component of recertification is continuing education required of doctors, Schlafly said that was the target of the lawsuit. Instead, the lawsuit was prompted by other components, including a test of medical knowledge. Schlafly cited a question asked of a plastic surgeon about how a technician would conduct an x-ray as an example that had no practical value.

“Good physicians wouldn’t be able to get their licenses renewed by the state if they don’t get recertified,” Schlafly said. He added that the lawsuit isn’t challenging initial certifications, which he likened to college degrees.

The association isn’t alone in opposing recertification. In 2010, the New England Journal of Medicine asked doctors] whether they would recommend that another doctor seek recertification if given a choice – 63 percent recommended against it. Recertification fees range from $1,250 to $4,820 depending on the specialty, according to a 2012 New England Journal of Medicine article.

Board officials have said that recertification is vitally important and reflects doctors’ commitment to maintaining their standards.

“Certification Matters,” according to a statement on the board website. “And ultimately, the measure of physician specialists is not merely that they have been certified, but how well they keep current in their specialty.”

The board has 21 days to respond to the suit, which was filed Wednesday.