Background: Evaluating the quality of postgraduate medical education (PGME) programs through accreditation is common practice worldwide. Accreditation is shaped by educational quality and quality management. An appropriate accreditation design is important, as it may drive improvements in training. Moreover, accreditors determine whether a PGME program passes the assessment, which may have major consequences, such as starting, continuing or discontinuing PGME. However, there is limited evidence for the benefits of different choices in accreditation design. Therefore, this study aims to explain how changing views on educational quality and quality management have impacted the design of the PGME accreditation system in the Netherlands.
Methods: To determine the historical development of the Dutch PGME accreditation system, we conducted a document analysis of accreditation documents spanning the past 50 years and a vision document outlining the future system. A template analysis technique was used to identify the main elements of the system.
Results: Four themes in the Dutch PGME accreditation system were identified: (1) objectives of accreditation, (2) PGME quality domains, (3) quality management approaches and (4) actors' responsibilities. Major shifts have taken place regarding decentralization, residency performance and physician practice outcomes, and quality improvement. Decentralization of the responsibilities of the accreditor was absent in 1966, but this has been slowly changing since 1999. In the future system, there will be nearly a maximum degree of decentralization. A focus on outcomes and quality improvement has been introduced in the current system. The number of formal documents striving for quality assurance has increased enormously over the past 50 years, which has led to increased bureaucracy. The future system needs to decrease the number of standards to focus on measurable outcomes and to strive for quality improvement.
Conclusion: The challenge for accreditors is to find the right balance between trusting and controlling medical professionals. Their choices will be reflected in the accreditation design. The four themes could enhance international comparisons and encourage better choices in the design of accreditation systems.
Keywords: Accreditation; Decentralization; Medical education; Postgraduate medical education; Quality; Quality improvement; Quality management; Self-evaluation.