ASK DR NOVOA- Why is Board Certification in Obstetrics Not Necessary?

I recently read a blog written by a Board-certified OB/GYN commenting that she disagreed with the American Medical Association’s position on allowing non-Board certified doctors to practice medicine.
Although I can appreciate the need for standardization and minimal requirements in regards to training and experience, I have to strongly disagree with doctors stating that Board-certification is absolutely necessary.
If you review each of the Board requirements for the 24 specialties certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties, you will become very aware of a recurrent loop-hole regarding true confirmation of sustained proficiency and expertise in each practice specialty.  Currently, there is no daily, monthly or even yearly monitoring of the practices of Boarded doctors, especially in Obstetrics and Gynecology.  That is to say, that once you pass your Board certification, you are under no obligation, nor are you required to be monitored to confirm that you are practicing in the manner which allowed you to get your Board-certification.
As an example.  The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) specifically states on it website the following “THE ABOG DOES NOT LICENSE MEDICAL DOCTORS. LICENSING OF MEDICAL DOCTORS IS DONE BY THE RESPECTIVE JURISDICTIONS IN WHICH SUCH DOCTORS PRACTICE.
What this amounts to is that the ABOG and other Boards do not routinely monitor the practice patterns of its member doctors to confirm that they are maintaining even a “minimal level of competency, proficiency or ethics” (except maybe during a re-certification year, where the doctor may be asked to submit up to “10” patient charts for review). “10” charts???? Really???? If the average OB were to deliver only 10 patients per month or 120 per year, this represents an evaluation of only 8.3% of their practice during that re-certification year. For doctors delivering between 200-400 babies per year, the percentage of possible evaluation falls to as low as 3% in that year alone. Further, if they are allowed to “cherry-pick” their case list, it is no wonder that the ABOG may be missing up to 50% of the unnecessary C-Sections which their Board-certified members are doing per year.
The tragedy of this problem can best be  demonstrated by the current extraordinarily high level of unnecessary Cesarean Section (C/S) associated with Board-certified OB/GYNs in the United States.  
In 1967, the rate of C/S was only 5%, today it is 33%.  Despite this embarrassingly high rate of C/S, we have not seen any documented benefits in the literature when comparing the risks vs. benefits to either the baby or the mother with having such a high rate of C/S as compared to the rate during the 1970s.
It is estimated that 500,000 C/S per year are unnecessary with greater than 90% of them being performed by Board-certified OB/GYN doctors.  
In comparison, the risks of complications associated with non-board certified OB/GYN doctors, certified mid-wives and family practice OB/GYNs are much LOWER when comparing both low and high risk patients.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Healthy People 2010 have all recommended the benefits of keeping a rate of C/S at or below 15%.
The reasons for all this are obvious.  Doctors are practicing defensive medicine and for the convenience of the doctor over the needs and benefits of the patient.  This includes both non-boarded and Board-certified doctors.  However, with greater than 90% of OB/GYN doctors being boarded, the problems with obstetrics in today’s society is overwhelmingly due to the behavior of Board-certified OB/GYNs.
Now, after decades of seeing what has been going on, year after year, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has finally starting to comment that there is a problem.  However, this is still too little, too late.
What needs to happen with all the Boards, is that doctors claiming proficiency and expertise based on being board-certified should be required to post monthly stats for the general public to review in order to confirm this level of proficiency on a day to day basis.  Until this happens, all being board-certified means is that you passed a written test and passed an oral exam stating what should be done, but not necessarily agreeing to practice that way in order to maintain your board-certification.
Until this happens, I refuse to be board-certified by the ABOG.  However,  I practice what I preach and I post my delivery stats online every month for the general public to review.  Despite delivering between 300-500 babies per year and specializing in complicated deliveries, such as Twin Vaginal Delivery and Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section (VBAC), I have a primary C/S rate of less than 7% and VBAC failure rate of less than 10%.
As far as CME,  I am required to have 24 per year to keep my Texas Medical License.  I, however, have earned over 1000 (yes, one thousand) in the past 3 years.
So, for my colleagues that are Board-certified, please help do something about the problem and stop pretending that Board-certification has the merits that you are bestowing upon it.  We all know of Board-certified doctors that routinely practice below the recommended standards and are ethically challenged.  We all know that Board-certification doesn’t keep any doctor from practicing the way they want to practice, especially in ways that make it easier for the doctor.  We all know that an overwhelming number of Boarded doctors are practicing defensive medicine (which is unethical).  We all know that very few times, if ever, does a Board-certifying body make one its Fellows produce statistics regarding their practices.
Until a Board-certified doctor is required to prove that not only can they pass a test, but that they practice every day the way they stated when they became Boarded, the American public is better off evaluating both Boarded and non-Boarded doctors on a case by case basis.
Dr. Julio C. Novoa, M.D.

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Filed under Blog, Obstetrics

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