Tuesday, December 16, 2014
IT'S hard to believe that another 10 years have passed, but the proof is the 11-volume stack of medical review books at my bedside. It's time for the decennial rite of cramming a thousand pages of facts for an eight-hour-long multiple choice test.
Doctors are licensed by their states to practice medicine, but they're also expected to be "board-certified" in their particular field — surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, etc. This certification comes from the professional organization of each field. In my case, it's the American Board of Internal Medicine.
It used to be that you tackled those monstrous board exams just once after residency. Then you went into practice and never looked at a No. 2 pencil again. But in 1990, the boards decided that doctors should recertify every 10 years. This seemed reasonable, given how much medicine changes. Over time, though, the recertification process has become its own industry. The exam has been supplemented with a growing number of maintenance-of-certification, or M.O.C., requirements. Some are knowledge-based exercises, but many are "practice assessments" meant to improve care in your own practice that end up being just onerous paperwork. And the recertification process and associated materials cost doctors thousands of dollars.
PRINCETON, N.J. — Len Charlap, a retired math professor, has had two outpatient echocardiograms in the past three years that scanned the valves of his heart. The first, performed by a technician at a community hospital near his home here in central New Jersey, lasted less than 30 minutes. The next, at a premier academic medical center in Boston, took three times as long and involved a cardiologist.
And yet, when he saw the charges, the numbers seemed backward: The community hospital had charged about $5,500, while the Harvard teaching hospital had billed $1,400 for the much more elaborate test. "Why would that be?" Mr. Charlap asked. "It really bothered me."