Take a look back at one issue that is keeping doctors in a rage (will it continue in 2016?)

One of the its bigger critics of the American Board of Medical Specialties’ Maintenance of Certification looks back (and ahead).

With so much controversy surrounding the American Board of Medical Specialties’ (ABMS) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program in 2015, especially as it pertained to the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), I thought it would be helpful to recap some of the earlier announcements about the ABMS MOC program, and then summarize this year’s most pertinent developments to serve as a springboard for 2016.

To keep it simple, I will use a timeline approach of the developments as I’ve seen them occur. (Remember: hindsight is always 20:20.)

    • 24 July 2012 – ABIM announces Medicare payment incentives for participation in their MOC program on their website.
    • 27 Apr 2013 – Drs. Wachter and Cassel named to Modern Healthcare’s “Most Influential Physician Executives.”
    • 12 Jun 2013 – ABMS lobbies Chairman Upton and Ranking Member Waxman of the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee to have MOC program included in MACRA (the SGR Fix bill) as a physician quality measure.
    • 30 June 2013 – Christine Cassel, MD to step down from ABIM as President and CEO of ABIM and ABIM Foundation. Earns $1.7 million as she leaves to begin work at the National Quality Forum.
    • 1 July 2013 – Richard Baron, MD becomes ABIM and ABIM Foundation President and CEO
    • 25 Sep 2013 – Christine Cassel, MD issued 3706 shares of Premier, Inc (PINC) stock
    • 1 Jan 2014 – ABIM offers either one-time (every 10-years) or annual payment plan option for its MOC program.
    • 2 Jan 2014 – Robert Wachter, MD receives another 2,640 shares of ICP The Hospitalist Company stock options valued at $58.50 (Market value: $154,440)
    • 10 Dec 2014 – Study appears in JAMA showing no effect of MOC program at improving patient outcomes.
    • 31 Jan 2015 – A virtual tour of the ABIM Foundation’s condominium is published.
    • 3 Feb 2015 – ABIM issues previously unimaginable apology to the physician community stating “ABIM clearly got it wrong” but fails to mention the financial, tax filing, and financial conflicts of interest of its President and CEO and members of its board leadership.
    • 3 Feb 2015 – Physicians (especially this one) are not impressed with ABIM’s announcement that failed to acknowledge ABIM’s history of serious financial and public reporting actions. Work continues to uncover what’s being hidden.
    • 16 Feb 2015 – ABIM initially fails to publish full financials for 2014 until pressured to do so. Apparent cover-up continues.
    • 30 Mar 2015 – New board ( formed and doctors are moving on after more of the financial transgressions come to light.
    • 3 Apr 2015 – Dr. Robert Wachter, the former chairman of board at the ABIM, tops Modern Healthcare’s Top Fifty Most Influential Physician Executives and is “not afraid to challenge the status quo.” Not surprisingly, Dr. Christine Cassel again makes the list as well.
    • 8 May 2015 – Consequences to physicians who fail their unproven MOC re-certification secure examination published online.
    • 23 May 2015 – ABIM, it’s finances, and the great revolving door collusion between the National Quality Forum, the ABIM, ABIM Foundation, and other specialty organizations published.
    • 31 May 2015 – The ABIM’s tax-filing cover-up of its lobbying activities with Congress exposed.
    • 29 June 2015 – Robert Wachter, MD attempts to defend the actions of the ABIM on his blog after leaving his post as Chairman and speaks out. No corporate conflicts of interest are specifically mentioned by Dr. Wachter. Comments to his post are worth a read.
    • 15 Aug 2015 – ABIM Foundation tries to bury its old “About Us” webpage that claimed the creation date of the Foundation was in 1999 by editing the page to disclose the correct date of origin (1989) and then includes information regarding “$55 million” that was transferred from the ABIM to its Foundation from 1989 to 2007. The amount transferred was actually much larger and made secretly without disclosing the Foundation’s existence to the physician community or public until 1999. The reasons for the secrecy and large annual payments made to the now defunct 1838 Investment Advisors (a spin-off of Drexel Burham Lampert financial fiasco – most of whom were indicted) made during that time have never been investigated or disclosed. One thing is now clear: it does NOT appear the sole reason for creation of the ABIM Foundation was to define and promote the term “medical professionalism” as originally claimed by the Foundation.
    • 9 Sep 2015 – The ABIM’s prior activities stumping for Big Tobacco in 1963 are revealed, lending less credibility to their claim that their certification program is for “public good.”
    • 23 Nov 2015 – TeamHealth (TMH) acquires IPC The Hospitalist Company for $80.25 per share netting Dr. Wachter and his university, the University of California, San Francisco, a comfortable profit.
    • 29 Nov 2015 – ABMS’s income stream for selling daily updates of physician certification status from the unproven and un-vetted data gathered from its member boards via disclosed bringing the legitimacy of the entire ABMS MOC empire sharply into question.
    • 6 December 2015 – A copy of the physician sanction letter issued June 8, 2010 surfaces on this blog and gives a glimpse into the strongman/boss tactics used by the ABIM to protect their certification monopoly. The tactics used to tract down physicians late after they participated in a board review course years before are now coming under intense scrutiny.
    • 16 Dec 2015 – ABIM announces its intent to extend its practice assessment decision through 2018.
    • 17 Dec 2015 – Christine Cassel, MD leaves her role as the President and CEO of the National Quality Forum (in charge of setting “quality” standards for the nation’s hospitals) to join the leadership team of Kaiser Permanente’s School of Medicine. Dr. Cassel had long-standing financial dealings with Kaiser since at least 2003.

Yes, folks, it has been quite a year. Still, various member boards of the ABMS continue to try to modify and “improve” the highly conflicted and ethically corrupt ABMS MOC program. While I would like to have other things to write about on this blog from time to time, I find it important to continue to expose the corruption and financial conflicts created by the ABMS and their member boards. 2016 promises more developments as others begin to dip their toe into exposing this complex and unfortunate story.

My prediction for 2016: the ABIM collapse under its own spending weight but not before “grants” are issued from the ABIM Foundation back to the ABIM to support its operations.

If the ABIM does collapse, what happens to the certification process for US internal medicine physicians? Clearly, significant change (including electable board members and disclosure of conflicts of interest publicly) are of paramount importance. Returning board certification to a lifetime designation also seems paramount since the MOC program continues to prove itself as highly destructive to our profession.

So stay tuned in 2016. It promises to be an interesting year as more revelations regarding the ABMS MOC program develop.

Photo: Flickr user Ingela Hjulfors Berg

Westby G. Fisher, MD, FACC is a board certified internist, cardiologist, and cardiac electrophysiologist (doctor specializing in heart rhythm disorders) practicing at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, IL, USA and is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine. He entered the blog-o-sphere in November, 2005. He writes regularly at Dr. Wes. DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this blog are strictly the those of the author(s) and should not be construed as the opinion(s) or policy(ies) of NorthShore University HealthSystem, nor recommendations for your care or anyone else's. Please seek professional guidance instead.

This post appears through the MedCity Influencers program. Anyone can publish their perspective on business and innovation in healthcare on MedCity News through MedCity Influencers. Click here to find out how.