Citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) says that all diplomates whose certificate expired in 2020 or 2021 will now have until the end of 2022 to fulfil the requirements for maintenance of certification (MOC).
The ABIM last April extended MOC deadlines by a year for those with certificates expiring in 2020. The new action broadens and lengthens the extension.
The ABIM announced the new deadline today, although it had given brief notice on March 2 on its COVID-19 page and also directly to several hundred physicians who were scheduled to participate in knowledge check-in exams last week.
Richard Baron, MD, president and CEO of ABIM, said the board made the decision just 10 days ago, after interviewing dozens of diplomates about whether they could fulfil requirements, particularly the in-person 10-year focused exam. Some said they wanted to take the exam but were suffering ill effects of COVID themselves or were concerned that the time they had set aside to study would be given over to COVID care, or that the exam date might have to be rescheduled if there was a spike in cases in their area, Baron said.
The decision to extend certification requirements “was informed by the actual experience of a group of clinicians facing COVID in their day job and thinking empathetically and realistically about what’s it like out there,” Baron told Medscape Medical News.
He noted that specialists in internal medicine — which encompasses infectious disease, critical care, and hospitalists among others — have been particularly stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many clinicians have still been trying to meet MOC requirements despite the pandemic, however.
In 2020, 32,000 physicians had expiring certificates; about half took advantage of the extension, according to ABIM.
Some 12,000 of the 20,000 diplomates whose certificates were expiring in 2021 had no other option except to take the 10-year exam in person. Baron said that about half of those have already registered for the exam, which is what would have been expected by this time of year.
Now those physicians can wait until 2022 and either take the one-time in-person exam or begin the new alternative longitudinal knowledge assessment program. Under that program, diplomates receive several questions a week that can be answered at any time on any device, as long as they meet a quarterly quota of responses.
The ABIM/ACC Collaborative Maintenance Pathway — offered to certain cardiology disciplines — will also be an option for 2020 and 2021 diplomates.
Clinicians who already registered for the 10-year exam in 2021 but want to cancel can do so, and the fee they paid will be banked and applied to the cost of any future exam or program, Baron said.
The ABIM considered — but ultimately decided against — offering the assessment virtually in 2020. However, it is not clear whether the exam can be given in a highly-secure manner that guarantees the person taking the test is who they say they are, Baron said. And he noted problems the American Board of Surgeons had in administering its exam virtually, which included freeze-ups and crashes.
Baron said that ABIM had also not seen a significant drop in the number of new trainees who took the initial certification exam in 2020.
The organization offered the main new certification exam in August, despite having earlier considered canceling because of COVID-related restrictions on capacity. About 8000 physicians took the test that month, and some 2500 more took advantage of bonus exam dates offered in December.
“The pass rate was if anything a little bit higher than the historical pass rate, suggesting that people did have the time and the space to study for it and prepare for it,” Baron said.
Only about 5% to 8% of those who were eligible did not take the exam, which is what is seen in most years, said Baron.
The initial certification exam will be offered again this August as usual, he said.
Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland–based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including Smithsonian.com, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.
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