Context: Health plans conduct credentialing processes to select and retain qualified physicians who will provide high-quality care to their subscribers. One of the tools available to health plans to help ensure physician competence is assessment of board certification status.
Objective: To determine the credentialing policies of health plans regarding the use of board certification and recertification for general pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists.
Design, setting, and participants: Telephone survey conducted February through July 2005 of credentialing personnel from a US national sample of 244 health plans stratified by enrollment size, Medicaid proportion, and for-profit or not-for-profit status.
Main outcome measures: Proportion of health plans that require general or subspecialty board certification at initial contract or at any time during association with the plan and recertification to maintain credentialing or to bill as a specialist or subspecialist; percentage of physicians credentialed in each health plan and credentialing goals for each plan regarding the proportion of physicians to be board certified.
Results: Response rate was 193 of 244 (79%). Overall, 174 (90%) of the plans do not require general pediatricians to be board certified at the time of initial credentialing, and only 41% ever require a general pediatrician to become board certified. Similarly, only 80 (40%) ever require subspecialists to become board certified in their subspecialty. Although 80 of 192 (41%) report requiring recertification of general pediatricians, almost half do not have a time frame in which recertification must occur. Seventy-seven percent of plans allow physicians to bill as subspecialists with expired certificates.
Conclusions: These findings, although specific to pediatrics, likely apply to other primary care disciplines and raise questions regarding the ability of plans to ensure initial or continued competence of their credentialed physicians. Growing public concern regarding patient safety, as well as demonstrated patient preferences for certified physicians, will likely result in greater emphasis on quality assessments in physician credentialing.