With all of the enhancements that the American Board of Medical Specialties’ (ABMS) Member Boards are making to their continuing certification programs, effectively communicating with the physicians they certify, known as diplomates, has become increasingly important. The boards are using multiple means to reach their diplomates, using the feedback they obtain to guide their ongoing efforts to enhance their programs and offerings.
Many Boards are increasing their presence at various meetings, conducting membership surveys, establishing “feedback” networks, and convening user and focus groups. Some are communicating through new or more frequently distributed e-newsletters, updated websites with more interactive physician portals, blogs, and social media. On a more personal level, others are placing more emphasis on customer service and even setting leadership “office hours.”
The American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) has engaged with early-career diplomates and hundreds of volunteers to test the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), hosted meetings with program directors to present it, and surveyed candidates and examiners about their experience with the OSCE, which consists of short simulated clinical situations as part of ABA’s primary certification process. Similarly, ABA has hosted focus groups and conducted surveys as the board develops enhancements to its Maintenance of Certification in Anesthesiology (MOCA) program. The board recently convened a MOCA 3.0 Users’ Group to help redesign its physician portal and create an ABA mobile app; tools necessary for the next phase of MOCA development. This fall, ABA will host two focus groups about MOCA 3.0. The board also is creating a diplomate engagement network to help with portal user testing. ABA is even engaging private practitioners by presenting to large private practice groups.
The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) established the Community Insights Network, a group of more than 4,000 physicians who routinely provide feedback to ABIM via surveys, telephone interviews, and user testing focusing on a wide array of enhancements. The ABIM Engage microsite serves as an invitation-only forum for approximately 8,000 diplomates to provide feedback not only about programmatic updates, but also issues they face daily as physicians. Topics have ranged from assessments and sepsis guidelines to favorite books. Formed last year, the Physician Advisory Panel helped launch ABIM’s enhanced website this past January. The group met twice a month for nearly a year about the site. The ABIM Blog and Quarterly News and Notes, the board’s new e-newsletter, were created to keep diplomates informed about the board’s MOC program. Additionally, ABIM has convened focus groups and informal meet-ups at numerous society meetings to involve physicians in the board’s efforts to create more physician-centric processes across the organization.
Leadership from the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) recently invited all the state chapters of the largest emergency medicine membership organization, the American College of Emergency Physicians, to participate in individual conference calls to explore possible changes to its recertification examination known as the ConCert™ Examination. Of the 50 chapters invited, 25 accepted. This year, ABEM sent a survey about possible alternatives to the ConCert Examination to all its diplomates, yielding nearly 13,000 responses for a 36 percent response rate.
The American Board of Ophthalmology (ABOP) is engaging diplomates by convening quarterly in-person discussion groups and conducting ongoing user surveys. Within the last two years, ABOP leadership has met with more than two dozen groups of diplomates across the country to identify ways to improve the board certification experience. Most recently, these meetings have focused on user experience research and testing for the development of a new website. Many diplomates they met have subsequently volunteered to lend their clinical expertise to help develop and administer the assessment programs. ABOP also named liaisons with subspecialty groups who work directly with the board on behalf of their subspecialty areas. In November 2016, ABOP launched the Diplomate Digest blog to relay news and current events.
The American Board of Surgery (ABS) has always presented at surgical society meetings when asked, but in the past year the board has made a real push for directors and volunteers to speak at every possible opportunity to keep diplomates informed as ABS implements its new Continuous Certification Program (formerly MOC). To date, more than 40 presentations have been given since January. Surveys have been a very important tool for ABS to gather feedback from diplomates, both prior to developing the new program and during program rollout. Diplomates will have the opportunity to expand upon their comments and concerns during online virtual listening sessions ABS is scheduling throughout the fall. The new ABS online assessment even has a built-in feedback mechanism for each question.
The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation has used diplomate surveys, has focus groups scheduled during upcoming society meetings, and will be adding webinars to its communication toolbox. Board directors continue to offer educational sessions at specialty society meetings to provide customized guidance for completing an Improvement in Medical Practice project.
Some Boards are taking very personalized approaches to reach their diplomates. The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery employs four certification specialists to address diplomate questions. Each diplomate is assigned a specialist from whom they receive personalized, focused email communication. In addition to the board’s Executive Medical Director, David F. Martin, MD, routinely attending orthopaedic meetings throughout the country, he offers “office hours” for diplomates to reach him directly. This past January, when Brian Nussenbaum, MD, was named the Executive Director of the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, he established office hours. Last year, the American Board of Radiology’s Certification Services Department responded to 9,344 telephone calls and 10,960 emails. Department staff contacts diplomates if their certificate is in danger of lapsing or their MOC participation status needs attention, and reminds candidates of exam registration deadlines. The board plans to assign a personal certification team member to each candidate and diplomate to help them get and stay certified throughout their career. Last October, ABS hired an associate dedicated to assisting diplomates who call or email questions about its new program. Talking to a person, instead of dealing with an automated system, has been well received by all of the boards’ diplomates. This year, ABIM offered individualized support for physicians taking the online Knowledge Check-In—a shorter, more frequent assessment alternative to the traditional 10-year exam. In addition to sending regular reminders, ABIM staff called every physician taking the online assessment in June, set up a question hotline, and provided an information technology concierge service to address any issues.
Whether these discussions are taking place at a meeting, during conference calls, or via the internet, they each represent a commitment by the boards to work closely with their diplomates to develop robust continuing certification programs that support physicians in providing the best possible patient care.
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