Are You Sure Your Pediatrician is Board-Certified?

Here’s why you need to give your child’s doctor a check-up: Up to 17 percent of physicians who claim to be pediatricians in state licensing files have never been board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP), a disturbing study by the University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit (CHEAR) found. Another CHEAR study reports that nearly 80 percent of parents would dump their child’s pediatrician and look for a new one if they found out that the doctor wasn’t maintaining board certification.

Yet most parents don’t realize that there’s no legal requirement for doctors—including pediatricians—to be board-certified in their specialty, says Kevin Weiss, MD, president and CEO of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). “In any state, any licensed doctor can hang up a shingle and restrict his or her practice to pediatrics without getting any additional training in that field.” A new survey by ABMS, released in April, found that many Americans have never checked on the credentials of the doctor they’ve entrusted with their own health or that of their kids. The good news is that there’s now a free, online tool to help you learn if your child’s doctor (or any medical specialist) is board-certified.

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What is board certification? “Currently, there is no national standard for board certification, so more than 200 medical organizations issue certificates,” says Dr. Weiss. However, not all of these groups have high standards. Some only require doctors to take a brief course or just send a check to pay for the certificate. Some states don’t permit doctors who are certified through such groups to advertise themselves as board-specialized.

The ABMS, a 78-year-old nonprofit whose specialty board certifications are widely deemed as the gold standard by hospitals, health plans, government, physicians and patients, consists of 24 member boards, which sanction more than 150 specialties and subspecialties. More than 750,000 doctors are certified through ABMS member boards, which require rigorous training and ongoing education and professional assessment, including periodic comprehensive exams. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) can also receive specialty board certification through American Osteopathic Association Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists, also a respected group.

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What are the requirements for pediatricians? For initial board certification in general pediatrics though American Board of Pediatrics, one of the ABMS member boards, doctors must earn a medical degree and complete a residency of at least three years in pediatrics. Additional years of residency training are required for board certification in pediatric subspecialties, pediatric cardiology or pediatric anesthesiology. To make sure pediatricians’ skills stay sharp over the years, like other specialists certified though ABMS member boards, they need to maintain certification though a program that now includes:

  • Maintaining an unrestricted license to practice medicine.
  • Career-long medical education and self-assessment.
  • Testing to show that specialty skills and knowledge meet high standards.
  • Practice performance assessment, with the quality of care compared to other doctors and to national benchmarks for best practices. Doctors must also implement a quality improvement project.

How can I check if my child’s pediatrician is board-certified? To find out if a pediatrician or any medical specialist is certified through ABMS, visit its board certification search page, register for the free service, then enter the doctor’s first and last name, city and state. You can also use the search page to look for board-certified doctors in your area in more than 150 specialties and subspecialties. Many studies show that board-certified doctors deliver higher quality care, with better patient outcomes, than doctors who lack board certification.

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