Public Members Help ABMS Member Boards Fulfill Their Mission

On April 17, 2024

Most patients and families are unaware of the full impact that American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) Member Boards have on health care quality and safety. But that is gradually changing as boards are increasingly soliciting input from patients largely through the public members who serve on their Boards of Directors (BOD) or Trustees.

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While most Member Boards have one public member on their BOD, some of the larger boards have elected two public members. Public members represent patients and individuals with a broad range of experience in health care from patient advocacy and community service to health administration, education, and regulatory policy. Their engagement with the Member Boards increases public trust, credibility, and transparency while helping the boards remain aware of, and responsive to, the needs of the patients, families, and communities they serve.

In addition to attending BOD meetings, public members serve on various committees, task forces, and work groups. These additional appointments allow public members to focus on a wide range of topics including research; credentialing; ethics; professionalism; continuing certification; competency-based medical education; diversity, equity, and inclusion; governance; communication; and finance.

A former public member of the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) summed up the role of public members on certifying boards in an article published in Ophthalmology, noted ABO CEO George B. Bartley, MD. Public members have helped to influence ABO policies and approaches by:

  1. Fostering the development of good governance policies and practices;
  2. Injecting the public voice into policy discussions and decisions;
  3. Advocating for the inclusion of ethics, communication, and patient safety in the assessment process;
  4. Assisting in the development and review of learning and assessment tools; and
  5. Supporting engagement and outreach.

“Our public members have been a vital part of the board,” said David F. Martin, MD, Executive Director of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS). “When we discuss a new initiative or consider modifying a process, the board values the feedback given by the public member who often brings a different viewpoint to the table.”

Public members with a patient advocacy background represent the patient – or health care consumer – in a way that medical professionals cannot, noted Carolyn Kinney, MD, Executive Director of the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “Their insight often brings new ideas and initiatives to the table that helps the board in its overall mission to provide quality patient care through the certification process,” she said.

The American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) has had two public members for the past 12 years; one with patient advocacy experience and the other with a public health policy background, noted Warren Newton, MD, MPH, ABFM President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO). “They play a very critical role in the conversation. Public members have been particularly helpful regarding professionalism, performance improvement, and residency issues,” he said. “Additionally, they provide valuable input about communications, governance, and research efforts.”

Gary W. Procop, MD, CEO of the American Board of Pathology concurred. “The inclusion of a public member has brought great value to the American Board of Pathology from their view of medical care delivery as a patient to their individual professional expertise. Our first public member brought an expertise in medical education that helped guide the board when considering alternate forms of assessment, including opportunities in competency-based assessment,” he added.

The first public member of the American Board of Anesthesiology’s (ABA) Board of Directors served on the Maintenance of Certification and Nonstandard Examinations Committees, where he helped navigate the future direction of continuing certification and decisions about exam accommodations for certification candidates. The second public member served on the Credentials and Nonstandard Examinations Committees, where she helped shape the ABA’s policy on professionalism. While the ABA’s first two public members happened to be attorneys, the current public member is a health psychologist who serves on the Credentialing, Nonstandard Examinations, and Research Committees. “Our public member directors play a pivotal role, providing not only the voice of the patient but also bringing expertise from the domain the public member normally works in that can be applied to Board of Director activities and issues. By serving on committees and actively participating in meetings, our public member directors help increase the public trust in the specialty and offer us important new ideas,” noted ABA Secretary Alex Macario, MD, MBA. 

Public members on the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) BOD also serve on the Credentials and Requirements; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Oral Examination; and Ethics Committees. They often provide input regarding candidate or physician issues related to admissibility to the examination process or certification standing, noted ABPS Executive Director Keith E. Brandt, MD. In fact, it was the public members’ feedback that led ABPS to make the difficult decision to publicly display adverse actions (e.g., probationary status, suspension, or even revocation of a certificate) against a physician’s certification status on its website. They maintained it is information that the public should know. Public members also have opportunities to contribute to the development of exam content when related to patient safety and professionalism. “Because both current ABPS public members have served in large hospital systems, they have been instrumental in helping ABPS understand physician evaluation and management,” he added.

The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) has two public members on its BOD with additional public members holding seats on the ABIM Council, all 12 of its specialty boards, and two co-sponsored Advisory Committees, the latter of which comprise representatives of ABIM and other Member Boards. The ABIM Foundation, which develops and implements projects to advance the core values of medical professionalism, also has several public members serving on its Board of Trustees. The American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) has two public members on its BOD plus two more on the BOD of the ABP Foundation, whose purpose is to support the ABP’s mission through research, innovation, and engagement. ABP also hosts a Family Leadership Committee composed exclusively of public members with diverse backgrounds and experience. These individuals bring their lived experience to inform and provide input on key policy and program level decisions ABP is addressing. ABP public members have been invited to attend special retreats and conferences, as well. A few public members from Member Boards have even presented at an annual ABMS Conference about their role.

Integrating patient perspectives in their work has helped Member Boards fulfill their mission by serving the public and advancing specialty care.

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