Why your doctor needs to be board-certified
When choosing a physician, people consider various factors – experience, training, proximity to their home, insurance coverage and the recommendations of family and friends.
One attribute that I suggest you add to that list is whether the chosen provider is board-certified. Why is board certification important? What does it really mean, and what can it tell you about a doctor?
Medical specialty boards were created in the first part of the 20th century as medical science was advancing, and physicians were beginning to gain specialty knowledge. The primary reason for specialty boards was to identify the boundaries and the content areas that defined specific medical specialties such as internal medicine, ophthalmology, pediatrics, urology and dermatology, to name a few. At that early time in history, board certification was designed to separate the genuine medical professionals from the “snake oil salesmen.”
It is important to understand that anybody who has graduated from medical school is a physician and is eligible for licensure. They can put those letters M.D. after their name upon graduating from medical school, but they cannot practice medicine until they have acquired a state-issued permit to practice medicine. All states require some additional training time in an internship and a residency beyond medical school before awarding a license. This state license means that the minimal training and competency requirements have been met to practice medicine.
Residency is training in one of the many medical specialties (internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, family practice, pediatrics, etc.) that lasts anywhere from three to five years after medical school.
Training time is longer if you want to be a subspecialist in areas such as critical care, cardiology, gastroenterology and heart surgery. At the end of training, you take a test, and if you pass, you are “board-certified” in the specialty or subspecialty. Board certification implies that the practitioner has gone above and beyond that minimal standard in a particular specialty or subspecialty by way of further education and study, and has passed a test to prove it. You can have several board certifications. I am triple boardcertified in electrodiagnostic medicine by the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine (ABEM), in physical medicine and rehabilitation by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPMR), and in internal medicine. I also have a Certificate of Added Qualification in Neuromuscular Ultrasound issued by the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine.
Board certification is an extra step that physicians choose to demonstrate that they know the latest advancements in their specialty. Board-certified physicians demonstrate their desire to practice at the top of their profession and to deliver highquality care to their patients. I teach physicians at the Baylor College of Medicine Department of Neurology, Houston, Texas. I find that teaching others what they need to know to be skilled, knowledgeable physicians helps me keep current with the latest medical advancements in my field of electrodiagnostics.
Approximately 90 percent of all practicing physicians in the U.S. are board-certified. Physicians may not be board-certified for any number of reasons. They may not have applied for their certification credentials or they may have been turned down for membership. It is also possible that they have lost the credential for failing to continue meeting the minimum requirements. The organizations providing certification help ensure that doctors keep abreast of the latest practices and treatments. They also verify board certification of physicians to patients, the government, schools and businesses.
As patients, hospitals and insurance companies become increasingly interested in evidence of physician competence and quality care, the relevance of board certification is growing. For many specialties, hospital privileges depend on certification standards. Widely accepted quality measures for health plans in the U.S. include a percentage of doctors with board certification. But research has found that the most common reason found for physicians enrolling for certification or recertification as required in some specialties, is professional image and quality of care.
There is a trend toward increased public interest in rigorous physician qualifications and a process that continually assesses and enhances physicians’ medical knowledge, judgment, professionalism, clinical techniques and communication skills. Board certification ensures that those criteria are being met. Don’t you want to make sure that your physician is practicing with those same high standards?
Dr. Stephen Wheat is a graduate of Louisiana State University Medical School, Shreveport, and is triple board-certified in electrodiagnostic medicine, internal medicine, and physical medicine and rehabilitation with a Certificate of Added Qualification in Neuromuscular Ultrasound issued by the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine. Offices are located at 1453 East Bert Kouns Industrial Loop, Suite 212 ACS Building #1 (Side Entry), and at 138 East 5th Street, Natchitoches. To find out more visit www. wheatmedical.com or call 318-352-4477.