Residency accreditation groups reach landmark agreement

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education will be responsible for accrediting all U.S. allopathic and osteopathic GME programs starting in 2015.

By — Posted Nov. 12, 2012

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For many years, allopathic and osteopathic residency programs have been accredited separately. Now the agencies responsible for overseeing the nation’s 10,000 graduate medical education programs are joining forces to create one unified system.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the American Osteopathic Assn. and the American Assn. of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine announced on Oct. 24 plans to consolidate accreditation efforts starting in July 2015.

“It will simplify the graduate medical education system for the country,” said AACOM President and CEO Stephen Shannon, DO, MPH. “We are collaborating to develop the strongest possible system.”

The organizations have discussed the possibility of consolidating efforts for about a decade, but negotiations began in earnest in January, said Thomas Nasca, MD, CEO of the ACGME. The collaboration was prompted in part by increasing public desire for accountability of GME, and the importance of consistency and uniformity in preparing specialists to serve the American public, he said.

The initiative will allow for a common set of competency expectations for all physicians, and establish uniform standards for GME programs nationwide, Dr. Nasca said.

“It’s a big step for the profession,” he said.

For DOs, the agreement represents a historic recognition of the equivalence of osteopathic GME to allopathic programs, said AOA President Ray E. Stowers, DO.

“A unified accreditation system would provide greater opportunity for the AOA and ACGME to share best practices in training physicians, including the implementation of quality improvement programs and performance standards that emphasize positive results, which translates to better and more affordable health care for patients,” Dr. Stowers said.

Having two systems creates redundancies and can be confusing for students, Dr. Shannon said. Under the current system, osteopathic graduates have the option of doing a residency accredited by either the AOA or the ACGME. Students are matched to residencies at different times of the year, depending on the accrediting agency. Some specialties only offer residency programs accredited by one or the other agency in specific geographic areas, Dr. Shannon said.

“The system is not as efficient as it could be,” he said.

Streamlining accreditation also will be beneficial from the standpoint of policymakers, because it will be easier to govern one system than two, Dr. Shannon said.

The ACGME accredits more than 9,000 GME programs encompassing 116,000 residents, including more than 8,900 osteopathic physicians. The AOA accredits more than 1,000 osteopathic GME programs with about 6,900 DO graduate residents.

The three organizations are working together to define a process, format and timetable for moving all accreditation efforts under the ACGME. The AOA and ACGME will become ACGME members, and plans are for the ACGME to absorb employees of the AOA who have been working on accreditation, Dr. Nasca said.

Any physicians entering AOA-accredited residency programs before 2015 will be eligible to complete residency and/or fellowship training in ACGME-accredited programs.

“This is a watershed moment for medical training in the U.S.,” he said. “This would provide physicians in the United States with a uniform path of preparation for practice.”

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