After many months of discussion and negotiation, leaders of the U.S. allopathic and osteopathic medical communities announced this week that they will transition to a single graduate medical education (GME) accreditation system.
In a joint press release issued Feb. 26, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine said the move to a single system would help ensure that Americans have access to safe, high quality health care.
"The commitment to a single accreditation system comes at a watershed moment for medical education in the (United States)," said ACGME CEO Thomas Nasca, M.D., in the release. "This uniform path of preparation for practice ensures that the evaluation of and accountability for the competency of all resident physicians -- M.D.s and D.O.s -- will be consistent across all programs.
"A single accreditation system provides the opportunity to introduce and consistently evaluate new physician competencies that are needed to meet patient needs and the health care delivery challenges facing the (United States) over the next decade," Nasca added.
Admittedly, the move to a single accreditation system will not happen overnight; rather, the new system will be phased in during a span of five years from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2020. During that extended transition process, AOA-accredited programs can apply to receive ACGME recognition and accreditation.
As a plus for newly graduated physicians, M.D.- and D.O.-trained physicians who have met prerequisite competencies will have opportunities to easily transfer between accredited programs without having to repeat coursework. The melding of the two accreditation systems into one also will put an end to dually accredited or parallel-accredited allopathic and osteopathic medical residency programs.
In an interview with AAFP News, Stan Kozakowski, M.D., director of the AAFP Division of Medical Education, called that out as a positive. "This will streamline the accreditation process," said Kozakowski. "And the creation of one system also will reduce costs for residency programs that currently are dually accredited. This is really about the quality of education."
Kozakowski cautioned against thinking that this accreditation train is moving full-steam ahead. The transition is intended to be slow and steady, he said. "Everyone believes it is immediate. It is not. This is a five-year phase-in program."
During a conference call on Feb. 27, leaders of the three collaborating organizations discussed the transition and answered questions from members of the media. According to Nasca, the organizations are most interested in fulfilling the educational needs that residents must achieve to meet the future health needs of the public.
"We also believe it will give us the opportunity to demonstrate to the American public that we are efficiently using the resources the government provides in graduate medical education, and, from that platform, then (we can) argue for further support for graduate medical education positions to meet the projected needs of the American public," said Nasca.
AOA President Norman Vinn, D.O., noted that nearly 60 percent of graduates in osteopathic medicine go into primary care. "That orientation will not change," said Vinn. "We hope in this agreement to further codify and enhance our (osteopathic) principles and retain an osteopathic focus in training programs."
Furthermore, Vinn said he anticipated growth in program opportunities that would include work in community-based hospitals and that would "further our longstanding commitment to rural and underserved communities."