Introduction: Deficiencies in physician competence play an important role in medical errors and poor-quality health care. National trends toward implementation of continuous assessment of physicians hold potential for significant impact on patient care because minor deficiencies can be identified before patient safety is threatened. However, the availability of assessment methods and the quality of existing tools vary, and a better understanding of the types of deficiencies seen in physicians is required to prioritize the development and enhancement of assessment and remediation methods.
Methods: Surveys of physicians and licensing authorities and analysis of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) Board Action Data Bank were used to collect information describing the nature and types of problems seen in practicing physicians. Focus groups, depth interviews with key professional stakeholders, and state medical board site visits provided additional information about deficiencies in physician competence.
Results: Quantitative and qualitative analyses identified (1) communication skills as a priority target for assessment approaches that also should focus on professional behaviors, knowledge, clinical judgment, and health-care quality; and (2) differences between regulatory approaches of licensing and certifying bodies contribute to a culture that limits effective self-assessment and continuous quality improvement. System problems impacting physician performance emerged as an important theme in the qualitative analysis.
Discussion: Considering alternative perspectives from the regulatory, education, and practice communities helps to define assessment priorities for physicians, facilitating development of a coherent and defensible approach to assessment and continuing professional development that promises to provide a more comprehensive solution to problems of health-care quality in the United States.