Archive for October, 2010

ER doctors settle squabble on certification

By TODD ACKERMAN
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Oct. 29, 2010, 10:52PM

AUSTIN — In a matter that competing camps of doctors warned would affect the welfare of patients, Texas’ medical regulatory agency Friday changed its rules to prevent future emergency physicians from advertising themselves as board-certified if they haven’t completed supervised training in the specialty.

But the Texas Medical Board also put in place a compromise grandfathering in those emergency doctors certified before Sept. 1, 2010, by an alternative association that substitutes ER experience for residency training. The association includes about 175 doctors in Texas.

“I can’t predict the future effect this rule change will have, but the intent has nothing to do with whom hospitals employ,” said Texas Medical Board Chairwoman Dr. Melinda McMichael, refuting the alternative association’s claim it would lead to hospitals requiring ER doctors be board-certified. “It’s strictly about advertising.”

Board-certified?

The board’s 12-6 vote ends a yearlong battle that pitted emergency doctors against one another. Traditionally certified doctors said allowing physicians without proper training to advertise themselves as board-certified would mislead the public.

Doctors certified by the alternative association said the rule change would cost some of them their jobs and rob the state of some manpower it relies on to staff emergency departments, particularly those in the state’s rural areas.

Neither side was happy with the compromise.

The fight’s primary combatants are the American Board of Medical Specialties, a 76-year-old association that in 1988 began requiring emergency doctors, a relatively new specialty at the time, to do a three-year residency; and the American Board of Physician Specialties, a younger association that in 1989 began certifying doctors who never did an emergency medicine residency but had worked in an ER five or more years.

The meeting drew national attention to a conflict now spreading to other states. One observer called Texas a bellwether for the rest of the U.S. Another predicted the war will last another generation.

For two hours, a packed house of mostly doctors took turns testifying, occasionally emotionally, before the state regulatory agency. It was the fourth such public hearing .

Shortage of physicians

“I’d love to have some residency-trained emergency doctors in my department, but another year went by and I’m still not seeing any,” said Dr. Daniel Garza of Cleveland. “We need another plan to provide the doctors we’re short on. This is that other plan.”

Dr. Otto Marquez, a Dallas-area emergency physician, said “the board should be protecting patients, not taking sides in a turf war.” Accusing the ABMS of trying to kill the ABPS, he said the board has gotten in “the middle of a food fight that’s been going on for 20 years.”

Dr. Sandy Schneider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, denied the issue puts the jobs of doctors who haven’t completed an emergency residency at risk, noting that many doctors practice in ERs and are not board certified.

The rule changes must be published in the Texas Register before they become effective and can be enforced. Medical board officials said that would probably be in December or January.

Bruce Catton, the American Board of Physician Specialties’ director of governmental affairs, said it will be two weeks to a month before the association decides on its next step but didn’t rule out legal action.

The association sued in 2007, alleging the New York Department of Health was illegally barring its physicians from listing themselves as board certified online.

Practice Track Needed Till EP Shortage Ends
Editor:
I am a board certified diplomate of the American Board of Physicians Specialties (ABPS). I have practiced emergency medicine for the past 20 years. I have never seen this type of idiocy in any profession other than medicine. (EMN 2010;32[9]:1.) We fight each other as if we are foreign countries. We have the fight of our lives trying to save our way of life as it is with all the Medicare cuts and insurance companies targeting us by cutting our salaries and reimbursements for their own profits.

I don’t think the American College of Emergency Physicians and all the powers-that-be have the patients’ best interests at heart. These people are self-serving and self-absorbed. Their interest is to keep salaries very high for residency trained emergency physicians. These residency trained physicians will never go to underserved areas where they are needed; they will remain around the cultural centers, commanding higher salaries and enjoying the amenities of city living. The underserved areas will continue to suffer, and have a lack of or diminished physician services.

The newly residency trained doctor will not want to work the long laborious night shifts or odd hours, and most likely will not want to work more than the usual work week when the hospital is in a pinch. The hospital will find itself still turning to even more expensive locums coverage. This is what ACEP and its companions want because who will most likely be the locums owner and provider? Probably the same residency trained doctors group or some similar type of arrangement.

These are some of the reasons that ACEP and its companions want to rule out ABPS, family, and internal medicine doctors from working in emergency departments. I don’t think it has a lot to do with training or the ability to work an emergency department at all. I don’t think you can tell a hospital administrator with confidence that a doctor just out of residency is more capable of working in an emergency department than a 20-year veteran emergency physician who has worked more than 4,000 hours a year for 20 years in an emergency department.

I have nothing against residency training. If a practitioner knows when he finishes medical school that emergency medicine is the field that he wants to pursue, then go into an emergency medicine residency. But, like most things in life, nothing is perfect. We finish medical school, chose our paths, and for whatever reasons decide that something else may be more attractive than what we chose. So maybe we find one of those small hospitals that will allow doctors residency trained in something other than emergency medicine to work in the emergency department because of need and because they cannot find a board certified residency trained emergency physician at any price who wants to come to Timbuktu to practice mistake-free medicine because we all know residency trained doctors never get sued and never make mistakes.

No one in emergency medicine wants a practice track, but it is still needed, and as long as there are not enough residency trained physicians to cover our emergency departments, some hospitals will have to use internists or family practitioners to cover their departments. The way to ensure that these physicians have the knowledge of emergency medicine is to offer them certification. If a family practitioner or internist wants to work in the emergency department, ABPS or some other entity should offer testing before the doctor ever works in the emergency department. Maybe an airway clinic or some type of anesthesia course also should be offered prior to the physician working in the emergency department. This would better serve the public and better ensure patient safety than fighting over certification, which only boils down to a fight over money.

My message to ACEP is this: When you can tell me that state regulations will allow your residency trained doctors to drop their malpractice insurance because they are so perfect, I will believe that only residency trained doctors should be in emergency departments. We all have to carry malpractice, which means that the public doesn’t believe in any of us, so to better protect them and ourselves, why don’t we unite and develop solutions that include all of us? There is enough room at the table; visits keep going up, and people keep coming. Let’s quit acting like wolves and pigs, and act like humans who can talk and work things out, and come up with solutions instead these turf battles.

John Stanton, DO
Horsham, PA

COMMENT:

“I have never seen this type of idiocy in any profession other than medicine.”

Thank you for your letter, Dr. Stanton. I would venture to add that not only has “this type of idiocy” not been seen in any other profession except medicine, but the level of  abuse and vituperation hurled mainly by AAEM (see Dr. Scaletta’s Nasty Comments)  over the decades since ABEM  prematurely and mistakenly closed its practice track, even in medicine, can only be found in the specialty of Emergency Medicine, much to its eternal shame.

“Turf wars” occur between specialties on a regular basis. Even now, radiologists and emergency physicians battle over who is qualified to do ultrasounds in the ER;  plastic surgeons, ENTs, and ophthalmologists argue over who is best qualified to do eye lifts; Dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons maintain that they should be the only ones who should do botox and restylane injections, the list is endless.

However,  most of these other “turf wars” have been conducted in semi-civilized, collegial discourse between specialty groups without resorting to demeaning, occasionally libelous speech which has been the hallmark of the rhetoric of AAEM and its minions.

And instead of healing the rift and seeking solutions for ALL ER physicians, not just the ABEM certified,  ACEP has exacerbated the divide by siding with AAEM, making non-EM residency trained physicians like Dr. Stanton even more disenfranchised. This is a failure of leadership and policy that can only be described as tragic.

Fortunately, the American Academy of Family Physicians has stepped into the void left by ACEP and has been more proactive in advocating for the significant number of its members who do practice Emergency Medicine. They also have enough foresight to offer solutions to the EP shortage in the rural areas by sanctioning EM fellowships, which of course, the EM leadership is fighting tooth and nail.  (see: EM Fellowships for FPs: Bane or Boon?)

Let us hope that the bullying tactics of AAEM and ACEP do not win the day. The only way to combat this would be to support ABPS and AAFP in its efforts, such as during the Texas Medical Board meeting.

LINKS:

GruntDoc

“Affirmed”!

and with that, the NY Appellate Court, seemingly sealed the dismissal of ABPS’s suit against NY-DOH, forcing a possible showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Appellate Court, gave short shrift to the strong arguments made by ABPS’s lawyer, Mr. Michael Sussman, easily finding for NY State, without reasoning or gravitas.  

Not that the Court needed a reason. You see, actions by this or any state, wherein the regulation(s) involve health education and welfare and not race, gender or nationality, gets subject to a legal analysis called, “rational basis”. And DW wants you to know that “rational” is used loosely, we mean really loosely, we mean even, irrationally.

Here is what occurred;

(1) New York has a physician website that lists doctors as emergency medicine board certified IF they did a residency in emergency medicine,  no problem there,

(2) an organization called ABEM [The American Board of Emergency Medicine, owned by the American Medical Association] lobbied New York to list MDs with its certification as board certified, whether or not they had done a residency in emergency medicine.

(3) the ABPS [American Board of Physician Specialties, certifies experienced ER doctors who have done residencies such as surgery, family practice and internal medicine AND have at least 5 years experience in emergency medicine practice, not owned by the AMA, having a patient first position] sued  because except for the emergency medicine residency requirement, their ER doctors meet and exceed the criteria, permitting the ABEM non ER residency trained to be able to advertise themselves as board certified.

(4) ABPS contended that if the ABEM/AMA doctor did not do a residency s/he should not be listed on the State’s website following the rule. But that if such a doctor certified by its competitor could be listed, then ABPS doctors should be listed as well.

(5) It is even simpler, ABPS said there should be a site where all ER docs should be listed, and in fact the State could list the certifying board, and whether or not an emergency medicine residency was done. ABPS believes that the best ER docs are residency trained in a relevant specialty and experienced with more than five years practice and does not accept the AMA tenet that three (3) years of emergency medicine is enough. Some hospitals agree and have even added another 4th year. However, that still does not trump greater than 5 years of experience.

 A simple and rational argument; if the rule says, you have to be emergency medicine trained to be board certified in new york, ABPS argued, then why are non emergency trained ER docs listed as certified. Was it simply because they had grandfathered certification by the AMA?

All that seems simple enough. And yet, the courts in New York, ruled against the ABPS    essentially aiding and abetting the business of the AMA/ABEM, on the basis that New York’s action was “rational”- The sort of irrational technicality that only lawyers and judges can understand. the sort of irrationality that allows criminals to get away with their crime(s).

DW asks, when did New York get into the business of aiding and abetting bad actors who seek to destroy competitor organizations with complete disregard for patient welfare issues, such as adequate access to Emergency Care?

DW has learned that there are hospitals in upstate New York, that don’t have and cannot recruit any ER doctors. Moreover, superior ABPS ER physicians are excluded from the Emergency Medicine workforce because of the AMA’s predatory action; now assisted by the state.  

DW wonders who the Court would prefer seeing if they had an emergency: a physician trained in a relevant specialty e.g. surgery, medicine, family practice, anesthesiology, pediatrics, with at least 5 years experience as an ER attending such as the ABPS certified physicians; OR, a physician who only completed a three (3) year residency in emergency medicine but was certified by the ABEM/AMA. If the court is confused, ask the patients in Upstate New York, or indeed throughout the state.

PATIENTS PREFER EXPERIENCED AND EXPERT PHYSICIANS, THAT’S JUST COMMON SENSE. 
Unfortunately, as we all know “common sense” isn’t so common, and as it turns out, in NY state, “rational” isn’t rational either.
INCIDENTALLY, A RECENT NATIONAL STUDY HAS SHOWN THAT EM RESIDENCY TRAINING DOES NOT IMPROVE QUALITY OF CARE.  (see EM Residency Training and Quality Measures)

What were the judges thinking? CLEARLY, THEY WEREN’T THINKING FOR THEMSELVES BUT MERELY CHOSE TO LISTEN TO AMA/ABEM TO THE DETRIMENT OF THE PEOPLE OF NEW YORK.