The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) certification and maintenance of certification (MOC) programs strive to provide the public with guidance about a physician's competence. This study summarizes the literature on the effectiveness of these programs.
A literature search was conducted for studies published between 1986 and April 2013 and limited to ABMS certification. A modified version of Kirkpatrick's 4 levels of program evaluation included the reaction of stakeholders to certification, the extent to which physicians are encouraged to improve, the relationship between performance in the programs and nonclinical external measures of physician competence, and the relationship of performance in the programs with clinical quality measures.
Patients' and hospitals' value of board certification and physician participation in MOC are high. Physicians are conflicted as to whether the effort involved is worth its value. Self-reported evidence shows improvement in knowledge, practice infrastructure, communication with patients and peers, and clinical care. Certification performance is generally related to nonclinical external measures such as types of training, practice characteristics, demographics, and disciplinary actions. In general, physicians who are board certified provide better patient care, albeit the results have modest effect sizes and are not unequivocal.
Certification boards should continuously try to improve their programs in response to feedback from stakeholders, changes in the way physicians practice, as well as the growth in the fields of measurement and technology. Keeping pace with these changes in a responsible and evidence-based way is important.