JAMA Studies Support MOC? You Decide

Well, we’ve been waiting for good evidence showing whether or not Maintenance of Certification (MOC) actually improves outcomes. Do the two studies published recently in JAMA deliver? You should read them and decide for yourselves. I’m troubled by the conflict of interest of Holmboe, one of the authors of the Gray, et al study (see below). And I think a bias is also present in the editorial written by Lee, who is a chief medical officer for Press Ganey (and who has time-unlimited certification), which the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) website still lists as a Performance in Practice (PIP) patient feedback product on their MOC web page.

In my view, neither the Gray, et al nor the Hayes et al studies show robust effects of MOC on outcomes. I imagine that’s what most opponents of MOC will probably point out at the free webinar about the studies tomorrow. I won’t have time to participate because I’ll be on duty.

I don’t agree with Lee that most physicians have a duty to improve MOC. In fact, most rank and file doctors are fed up with this process which takes time away from patient care, which is often not relevant to our practices, and which makes a great deal of money for the boards. I support the principle of lifelong learning but I can still oppose MOC because it obviously does not and probably cannot embody the principle adequately.

The webinar may turn out a lot like the recent debate about MOC in Philadelphia. And we already have a MOC Focus Group assessment which clearly shows the opposition of many physicians to MOC, despite the participation of Holmboe.

The JAMA message is that if we just keep running further studies on MOC, we’ll eventually come up with justification for imposing it on American doctors. By the way, did you know that some international physicians can negotiate obtaining a special license with state medical boards to practice in the U.S. and remain exempt from participating in MOC? How does that work? Is it any wonder physicians are skeptical?

They’re telling us to hold on, the evidence-base is coming.

Judging from the present studies offered up as support for MOC by biased authors–I’m skeptical.


Lee, T. H. (2014). “Certifying the good physician: a work in progress.” JAMA 312(22): 2340-2342.

Hayes, J., et al. (2014). “Association between physician time-unlimited vs time-limited internal medicine board certification and ambulatory patient care quality.” JAMA 312(22): 2358-2363.
IMPORTANCE: American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) initiatives encourage internists with time-unlimited certificates to recertify. However, there are limited data evaluating differences in performance between internists with time-limited or time-unlimited board certification. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether there are differences in primary care quality between physicians holding time-limited or time-unlimited certification. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Retrospective analysis of performance data from 1 year (2012-2013) at 4 Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. Participants were internists with time-limited (n = 71) or time-unlimited (n = 34) ABIM certification providing primary care to 68,213 patients. Median physician panel size was 610 patients (range, 19-1316), with no differences between groups (P = .90). MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Ten primary care performance measures: colorectal screening rates; diabetes with glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c level) less than 9.0%; diabetes with blood pressure less than 140/90 mm Hg; diabetes with low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) level less than 100 mg/dL; hypertension with blood pressure less than 140/90 mm Hg; thiazide diuretics used in multidrug hypertensive regimen; atherosclerotic coronary artery disease and LDL-C level less than 100 mg/dL; post-myocardial infarction use of aspirin; post-myocardial infarction use of beta-blockers; congestive heart failure (CHF) with use of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor. RESULTS: After adjustment for practice site, panel size, years since certification, and clustering by physician, there were no differences in outcomes for patients cared for by internists with time-limited or time-unlimited certification for any performance measure: colorectal screening (odds ratio [OR], 0.95 [95% CI, 0.89-1.01]); diabetes with HbA1c level less than 9.0% (OR, 0.96 [95% CI, 0.74-1.2]); blood pressure control (OR, 0.99 [95% CI, 0.69-1.4]); LDL-C level less than 100 mg/dL (OR, 1.1 [95% CI, 0.79-1.5]); hypertension with blood pressure less than 140/90 mm Hg (OR, 1.0 [95% CI, 0.92-1.2]); thiazide use (OR, 1.0 [95% CI, 0.8-1.3]); atherosclerotic coronary artery disease with LDL-C level less than 100 mg/dL (OR, 1.1 [95% CI, 0.75-1.7]); post-myocardial infarction use of aspirin (OR, 0.98 [95% CI, 0.58-1.68]) or beta-blockers (OR, 1.0 [95% CI, 0.57-1.9]); CHF with use of ACE inhibitor (OR, 0.98 [95% CI, 0.61-1.6]). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Among internists providing primary care at 4 VA medical centers, there were no significant differences between those with time-limited ABIM certification and those with time-unlimited ABIM certification on 10 primary care performance measures. Additional research to examine the difference in patient outcomes among holders of time-limited and time-unlimited certificates in non-VA and nonacademic settings and the association with other ABIM goals may help clarify the potential benefit of Maintenance of Certification participation.

Gray, B. M., et al. (2014). “Association between imposition of a Maintenance of Certification requirement and ambulatory care-sensitive hospitalizations and health care costs.” JAMA 312(22): 2348-2357.
IMPORTANCE: In 1990, the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) ended lifelong certification by initiating a 10-year Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program that first took effect in 2000. Despite the importance of this change, there has been limited research examining associations between the MOC requirement and patient outcomes. OBJECTIVE: To measure associations between the original ABIM MOC requirement and outcomes of care. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Quasi-experimental comparison between outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries treated in 2001 by 2 groups of ABIM-certified internal medicine physicians (general internists). One group (n = 956), initially certified in 1991, was required to fulfill the MOC program in 2001 (MOC-required) and treated 84 215 beneficiaries in the sample; the other group (n = 974), initially certified in 1989, was grandfathered out of the MOC requirement (MOC-grandfathered) and treated 69 830 similar beneficiaries in the sample. We compared differences in outcomes for the beneficiary cohort treated by the MOC-required general internists before (1999-2000) and after (2002-2005) they were required to complete MOC, using the beneficiary cohort treated by the MOC-grandfathered general internists as the control. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Quality measures were ambulatory care-sensitive hospitalizations (ACSHs), measured using prevention quality indicators. Ambulatory care-sensitive hospitalizations are hospitalizations triggered by conditions thought to be potentially preventable through better access to and quality of outpatient care. Other outcomes included health care cost measures (adjusted to 2013 dollars). RESULTS: Annual incidence of ACSHs (per 1000 beneficiaries) increased from the pre-MOC period (37.9 for MOC-required beneficiaries vs 37.0 for MOC-grandfathered beneficiaries) to the post-MOC period (61.8 for MOC-required beneficiaries vs 61.4 for MOC-grandfathered beneficiaries) for both cohorts, as did annual per-beneficiary health care costs (pre-MOC period, $5157 for MOC-required beneficiaries vs $5133 for MOC-grandfathered beneficiaries; post-MOC period, $7633 for MOC-required beneficiaries vs $7793 for MOC-grandfathered beneficiaries). The MOC requirement was not statistically associated with cohort differences in the growth of the annual ACSH rate (per 1000 beneficiaries, 0.1 [95% CI, -1.7 to 1.9]; P = .92), but was associated with a cohort difference in the annual, per-beneficiary cost growth of -$167 (95% CI, -$270.5 to -$63.5; P = .002; 2.5% of overall mean cost). CONCLUSION AND RELEVANCE: Imposition of the MOC requirement was not associated with a difference in the increase in ACSHs but was associated with a small reduction in the growth differences of costs for a cohort of Medicare beneficiaries.



  1. Are the boards even listening?


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