Background: Since 1965, Medicare has publically financed graduate medical education (GME) in the United States. Given public financing, various advisory groups have argued that GME should be more socially accountable. Several efforts are underway to develop accountability measures for GME that could be tied to Medicare payments, but it is not clear how to measure or even define social accountability.
Objective: We explored how GME stakeholders perceive, define, and measure social accountability.
Methods: Through purposive and snowball sampling, we completed semistructured interviews with 18 GME stakeholders from GME training sites, government agencies, and health care organizations. We analyzed interview field notes and audiorecordings using a flexible, iterative, qualitative group process to identify themes.
Results: THREE THEMES EMERGED IN REGARDS TO DEFINING SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY: (1) creating a diverse physician workforce to address regional needs and primary care and specialty shortages; (2) ensuring quality in training and care to best serve patients; and (3) providing service to surrounding communities and the general public. All but 1 stakeholder believed GME institutions have a responsibility to be socially accountable. Reported barriers to achieving social accountability included training time constraints, financial limitations, and institutional resistance. Suggestions for measuring social accountability included reviewing graduates' specialties and practice locations, evaluating curricular content, and reviewing program services to surrounding communities.
Conclusions: Most stakeholders endorsed the concept of social accountability in GME, suggesting definitions and possible measures that could inform policy makers calls for increased accountability despite recognized barriers.