With medical information and practice changing at lightning speed, making sure your doctor keeps up with the latest breakthroughs could prove vital to the care you receive.

It's the job of professional certification boards to assess just how well physicians are keeping abreast of these changes. Now, those certification requirements are in the process of undergoing a major change.

10 Years AT A Time

One of the biggest changes is that a doctor's board certification will not be set for life, but instead will be limited to no more than 10 years.

"The nature of board certification is changing," says Dr. Robert Steinbrook, a national correspondent for the The New England, Journal of Medicine. "Historically, physicians were certified once. Now, physicians are expected, as part of a process of continuing education, to maintain their certification."

Each specialty will have its own ways to monitor and assess competence, but certification will be for only six to 10 years.

While the new 10-year rule will not apply to doctors certified before 1!p0, certifying boards are actively encouraging these doctors to participate in the new certification program.

Dr. Troyen Brennan, from Brigham and 'Women's Hospital in Boston, believes this change is a good way for doctors to keep abreast of the latest developments in medical practice, which is changing faster than ever before. "It is a reason for people to demonstrate that they have kept up and know what the most recent information is," he says.

'A smarter doctor who is more aware of the recent changes in health-care techniques is a better doctor" Brennan says. 'And patients will get higher-quality care."

Better Patient Care

Dr. F. Daniel Duffy, executive vice president of the American Board of Internal Medicine, says the changes "move certification beyond an examination of knowledge and judgment to an evaluation of actual performance and practice."

Key to the new process is a team approach and systems that help achieve better care. "I learned a lot, and felt that I was a better doctor as a result of [the new certification process]," says Brennan. "The move toward required recertification is a way of ensuring that medical practice is good, and continues to be good."

Dr. Richard J. Baron, from Greenhouse Internists, PC, in Philadelphia, believes that revamping the certification process will lead to better patient care.

"Traditionally, we have thought about what we do as a one-patient-at-a-time approach. The new process is a way to look at the patients we take care of as a population of people, and enables us to get a sense of how we are doing taking care of the whole group," he explains. "It's a different way to look at excellence in medical care."

"The motivation behind the changes is excellent," Steinbrook says. "Whether all the goals will be achieved is hard to say. I think we will have to wait and see."

Doing The Right Thing

Duffy admits that for many physicians the new process will be time-consuming. "We are not used to sitting down and systematically looking at our practices," he says. "Until we get accustomed to that and build that into our culture, it's going to seem like a burden and something we didn't choose to do.

"But when physicians do it, they realize wow, the value of doing this is really terrific!" Duffy says. 'And people really want to do the right thing."

Board-certified specialties include: Allergy and Immunology, Anesthesiology, Colon and Rectal Surgery, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Medical Genetics, Neurological Surgery, Nuclear Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Ophthalmology, Orthopedic Surgery, Otolaryngology, Pathology, Pediatrics, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Plastic Surgery Preventive Medicine, Psychiatry and Neurology, Radiology, Surgery, Thoracic Surgery and Urology.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in