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Overabundance of healthcare certifications perplexes; quality and value – or profiteering?

July 10th, 2018

In last month’s blog, I asked the question, “Why do physicians with a career history of providing high quality care have to continue to take board re-certification examinations every six years?” I guess the topic of certifications in general has me in a bit of a huff these days. Not physician certifications, necessarily; rather, the plethora of certifications that have sprouted in recent years for healthcare roles not directly related to personal, clinical care.

I recently came across a post on LinkedIn that noted 149 patient advocates were now certified through a board I won’t name, following the inaugural national certification exam for professionals working as patient advocates. I’m an advocate for advocacy in most forms, and certainly for patient advocates. Yet does an examination make them more qualified or effective than their non-certified patient advocate colleagues in the field? I use this only as an example, not to highlight the legitimacy of this particular board and/or certification.

In general, I believe there is mission creep when it comes to board certifications for professionals who work in the healthcare community yet are not providing direct clinical care. Is the goal of having an educated healthcare workforce being hijacked by non-profit or for-profit companies set up chiefly to create and promote new certifications? I’m as pro-business as the next person, but healthcare is a unique animal and the needs of the patient must always be front and center. I’m not convinced there’s a patient-first focus behind the proliferation of new certifications. Where is the evidence showing that certifications lead to better healthcare delivery and better outcomes?

Following this progression, the next likely certifications will be in telehealth. Certified in operating telehealth equipment?  (See “on” button.) Certified in understanding the psycho/social dynamics between patient and provider in a telehealth environment?  Okay, now I’m just getting silly, but you do see my point. Board certifications may be appropriate for some healthcare careers not directly involved in patient care, but they are likely the exception and should not be a substitute for the value of ongoing continuing medical education and interacting with peers and intra-disciplinary professionals as a way of gaining valuable knowledge that is job applicable.

What we seem to forget is that healthcare professionals require a state license to practice.  And this practice of licensing generally works well. In Michigan the Licensing Division, in conjunction with state licensing boards, regulates 25 health professions under the Michigan Public Health Code. That’s an impressive number, do we really need anymore?

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